May 12, 2010

A White House report on childhood obesity calls the condition an "epidemic" and a "national health crises," saying one of every three children is overweight or obese.

The Task Force on Childhood Obesity, which issued the report, is a key part of First Lady Michelle Obama's campaign to reduce the problem of obesity in America.

"We have a roadmap for implementing our plan across our government and across the country," Michelle Obama told reporters Tuesday.

The White House said the campaign would rely on persuasion and education rather than new federal laws. That said, the task force said food marketers -- especially food targeted at children -- should reduce their advertising. It said cartoon characters should only be used to promote healthy foods.

The report includes a total of 70 recommendations for specific action steps, many of which can be implemented right away and are minimal or no-cost.

"By looking across both the private and public sector and various government entities, these recommendations articulate a comprehensive approach to combating childhood obesity," said Jeffrey Levi, Ph.D., Executive Director of Trust for America's Health. "The Childhood Obesity Task Force should be commended for setting such specific goals that will help direct the action needed to address this national epidemic."

Looking for action

But Levi suggests more than persuasion is needed.

"It is now the responsibility of the administration and Congress to ensure that sufficient resources are provided so that each recommendation can be realized," he said. "Each agency must develop implementation plans for those recommendations for which it is responsible."

Among the recommendations for federal action are:

• Increase resources for school meals.

• A multi-year Healthy Food Financing Initiative should be created to leverage private funds to address the problem of food deserts.

• The FDA and USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service should collaborate with the food and beverage industry to develop and implement a standard system of nutritional labeling for the front of packages.

• If voluntary efforts to limit marketing of less healthy foods and beverages to kids do not achieve substantial success, the Federal Communications Commission should consider new rules regarding commercials during children's programming.

• Federal policies should promote more physical activity by updating the President's Challenge, reauthorizing the Surface Transportation Act to enhance livability and physical activity, having the EPA assist school districts with setting guidelines for new schools to consider promotion of physical activity, and enhancement of the Federal Safe Routes to Schools Program.

• The Federal government should provide guidance on how to increase physical activity, improve nutrition, and reduce screen time in early child care settings.