First Lady Michelle Obama unveiled her "Childhood Obesity Action Plan
" on Tuesday, and the blueprint for ending the problem within a generation calls for more infant breastfeeding, building more sidewalks, curbing time with digital media and getting deep fryers out of schools.
But the proposals, issued by a task force led by White House Domestic Policy Adviser Melody Barnes, stays away from any firm recommendations on controversial matters pending in Congress, state legislatures and city councils, such as taxes on junk foods and sodas. Instead, there is a recommendation to "analyze the effect of state and local sales taxes on less healthy, energy-dense foods."
Just as breastfeeding can reduce a child's chances of obesity later, reducing sugar in children's diets can also make a difference, the report notes. "Children today consume a substantial amount of added sugars through a whole range of products. . . . Targets for reducing added sugar will then need to be established that track the overall goal of driving obesity rates down to 5% by 2030."
The report is an outgrowth of the Feb. 2 launch of the anti-childhood obesity drive at the White House, where President Obama created the Task Force on Childhood Obesity and ordered a 90-day review.
Mrs. Obama, who has been promoting her "Let's Move" anti-obesity campaign since February, was flanked by seven Obama administration officials--including three cabinet members-- during a briefing on the 124-page report Tuesday morning at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
"Today, the Task Force has submitted their report outlining important steps that federal agencies and their partners -- including businesses and the private sector -- will take in the months and years ahead to help keep our children healthy. For the first time -- this is the key -- we're setting really clear goals and benchmarks and measurable outcomes that will help tackle this challenge one step, one family and one child at a time," Mrs. Obama said.
She added, "with this report, we have a very solid road map that we need to make these goals real, to solve this problem within a generation. Now we just need to follow through with the plan. We just need everyone to do their part -- and it's going to take everyone. No one gets off the hook on this one -- from governments to schools, corporations to nonprofits, all the way down to families sitting around their dinner table.
"And the one thing that I can promise is that as First Lady I'm going to continue to do everything that I can to focus my energy to keep this issue at the forefront of the discussion in this society so that we ensure that our children can have the healthy lives and the bright futures that they deserve."
Mrs. Obama has already been talking about some of the 70 recommendations, such as having pediatricians measure children's Body Mass Index in order to track healthy weight. Others include:
- "Asking the federal government to revisit rules on television advertising aimed at kids "if voluntary efforts to limit the marketing of less healthy foods and beverages to children do not yield substantial results."
- "Federally funded and private insurance plans should cover services necessary to prevent, assess, and provide care to overweight and obese children."
- "Entertainment and technology companies should continue to develop new approaches for using technology to engage children in physical activity."
Besides Barnes, joining Mrs. Obama were Health Czar Nancy Ann DeParle; Federal Trade Commission chief Jon Leibowitz; Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius; Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan.
Watching the event in the back of the auditorium were, among others, White House Chef Sam Kass, who is a food initiative coordinator and Ezekiel Emanuel, a White House health policy advisor who is the brother of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Mrs. Obama did not stay to take questions from the press.
Much of Mrs. Obama's obesity agenda flows through the use of her bully pulpit. She has not gone to Capitol Hill to testify before committees funding some of the proposals she advocates--such as funding for grocery stores in underserved areas--called "food deserts" or for dollars to build more bike ways and sidewalks.
The FTC's Leibowitz was pressed about the federal government role in regulating marketing pitches to children when it comes to pushing unhealthy foods While the food and beverage industry has made some voluntary changes, the report says more needs to be done.
On March 16, Mrs. Obama, appearing before a Grocery Manufacturers Association conference in Washington told the industry representatives, "you all produce much of the food that our children eat -- and have marketed to them -- each day. The decisions you make determine what's in our grocery store shelves, what's in our school lunches, and what's in the thousands of advertisements our kids are exposed to each year. And I know that many of you are undertaking efforts to significantly reformulate your products -- and I hope that the time will come when all of you are."
Leibowitz said, "a regulatory approach is certainly not where we want to start." "You start by pushing self-regulation, by pushing your bully pulpit; sometimes shaming companies that don't do enough." Leibowitz revealed the FTC is likely to issue subpoenas to major food marketing and fast food companies about earlier marketing pledges.