courage needed in fight against childhood obesity
July 14, 2010
Suzanne Havala Hobbs
of us are popping our buttons and splitting the seams of our
pants. We’re fatter than ever, and the problem is on
track to worsen.
The particulars are laid out in F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens
America’s Future 2010, the latest obesity report from
the advocacy group Trust for America’s Health and its
partner, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (Read the
full report here.)
The report is notable for its documentation of the magnitude
and scope of the problem, including disproportionate rates
of obesity among racial and ethnic groups and those with lower
incomes. It offers little hope for a solution, though the
findings point to the most likely force for change.
Among the report’s findings: North Carolina is among
the top ten fattest states. More than 25 percent of adults
in more than two-thirds of the states in our country are obese.
Twenty years ago, there were no states with obesity rates
above 20 percent.
Our efforts to lose weight – or stave off further weight
gain – are stymied by a collection of environmental
factors that hold us back. They include too few convenient,
safe places to be physically active, a constant barrage of
advertising pushing cheap, high-calorie foods, and government
policies that promote and financially support the production
of inexpensive, processed foods instead of affordable, health-supporting
fresh fruits and vegetables.
These factors and others require policy changes at the levels
of local, state, and national governments. And despite some
good work by many and small steps marking progress along the
way, we haven’t done nearly enough quickly enough.
In part, that’s because public health advocates have
not yet been successful at standing up to powerful food industry
organizations and other interest groups that stand to lose
by efforts to effectively fight fat. The story has been the
same for decades, and the most recent episode in North Carolina
is one case in point.
A bill that proposed prudent and moderate changes that would
tighten nutrition standards for beverages served at day care
centers was derailed, even after it had passed its second
reading in the N.C. House. The bill, which sought to restrict
chocolate milk and other sweetened drinks served to children,
proposed changes that are in line with current government
and mainstream dietary recommendations.
Common sense, however, was no match for Americans for Prosperity,
a national advocacy group with a North Carolina chapter. As
reported in this paper last month, an email blast and automated
phone calls initiated by the group resulted in a substantially
weaker bill being passed.
The report from Trust for America’s Health, however,
does contain a seed of hope. Results of a national poll showed
that 84 percent of Americans across all political persuasions
feel that childhood obesity is a major public health problem.
Most thought the problem was urgent, and most favored funneling
money into a comprehensive national plan to fight childhood
But it will require political will – and courage –
to bring about policy changes on the scale needed to reverse
the trend toward a fatter and fatter America and North Carolina.
Suzanne Havala Hobbs is a licensed, registered dietitian
and clinical associate professor in the Department of Health
Policy and Management and the Department of Nutrition in the
UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Send questions
and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.