The Politics of Eating and Exercising: Are We Getting It Right?
Eat healthier. Exercise. Our culture is currently full of messages telling us to change our habits, to turn us into a leaner, healthier society. While these messages are easier said than done, they're perfectly warranted: The Centers for Disease Control reports that childhood obesity has tripled since the 1970s. So what can we do to fight childhood obesity? According to Kristen Harrison and other researchers in the Division of Nutrition Sciences at the University of Illinois, we need to make changes at six different levels of our society—individual genes, children, families, community, country, and culture (Harrison et al., 2011). But these are changes that cannot be made by individuals or communities alone. So how might our government be trying to help?
First Lady Michelle Obama has been a strong proponent of ending childhood obesity. Let's Move is an initiative started by the First Lady that "combin[es] comprehensive strategies and common sense" to help parents, children, and schools make healthier decisions. As a part of this initiative, President Obama established the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity (TFCO), to develop an action plan to end childhood obesity within this generation. Let’s take a look at what Let's Move! and the TFCO are recommending to help our society fight childhood obesity.
(1) Make changes in early childhood. This recommendation advises health care providers to offer more resources about healthy pregnancies and breastfeeding, and encourages families to improve childhood nutrition and increase children’s physical activity.
(2) Make healthier foods available in schools. This recommendation encourages the FDA and the Department of Education to work with schools to implement healthy meal options, including updating cafeteria equipment, connecting local farms with school meal programs, and using school gardens.
(3) Empower parents. To ensure that families can help fight childhood obesity, this recommendation advises the FDA, USDA, and food industry to work together to develop a nutrition labeling system that’s easy for parents to understand; restaurants to decrease portion sizes; and pediatricians to routinely talk to families about eating and exercise.
(4) Make healthy foods accessible and affordable. This recommendation encourages local government and communities to work together to promote farmers' markets, increase fresh, healthy foods in grocery stores, and eliminate high-calorie foods in facilities that serve children.
(5) Increase children's physical activity. This recommendation urges local government to increase the number of playgrounds and parks; community members to commute by walking or biking; and schools to increase physical education and physical activity breaks for children and adolescents.
These recommendations made by Let's Move! and the TFCO provide a strategy for fighting childhood obesity that makes changes at different levels of society. Each of the recommendations made by Let’s Move! and the TFCO addresses key changes at all six levels proposed by Harrison and colleagues, making the goal of ending childhood obesity during this generation a potentially attainable goal.
Harrison et al. (2011). Toward a Developmental Conceptualization of Contributors to Overweight and Obesity in Childhood: The Six-Cs Model. Child Development Perspectives, 5(1), 50-58.
White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity (2010, May). White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity Report to the President: Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity Within a Generation. Retrieved from http://www.letsmove.gov/white-house-task-force-childhood-obesity-report-president