Despite efforts by some states in recent years to require healthier lunches in schools, require restaurants to post caloric information for each of their menu items, and tax soda, people in the United States are continuing to get heavier. It is estimated that over one third of our children in this country are obese or overweight. Scary, right?
While these individual attempts to combat obesity and increase healthier living are steps in the right direction, what is truly needed is an environmental shift in how we look at food, nutrition, and exercise. It is much cheaper to eat a hamburger at a fast food joint than it is to eat a salad (thanks to government subsidies for corn and soybeans). It is impossible for children to escape the advertising for candy and processed foods. An eye-opening study conducted by researchers at Yale showed that the fast-food industry spent more than $4.2 billion dollars on marketing and advertising in 2009 specifically targeting ads to children as young as two years old.
Children crave junk. Believe me. I fight this issue every day with my own daughter.
So what can be done about it?
INNOVATE: Using Psychology to Promote Healthier Choices
Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it would be providing food behavior scientists with $2 million dollars to try to find ways to fight against the strong advertising messages. We know that advertising and flashy marketing work for soda and candy. Can it work for carrots?
Some of the tactics that have been found to be successful so far are:
- Keeping ice cream in freezers that do not have see-through tops
- Moving the salad bar next to the checkout registers giving kids more time to think about having their veggies
- Providing a “make-your-own” subs and wraps section a la Subway
- Giving veggies catchy names like “x-ray vision carrots” and “lean, mean green beans”
EDUCATE: Mobilizing the Nation
First Lady Obama is also working diligently, through the Let’s Move campaign, to create improvements in the health and nutrition of children by providing tips for parents, coupling chefs with public schools to design healthier menu options and teach cooking classes, and working with community leaders to teach their members how to provide nutritious meals to their families, organize community gardens, and advocate for healthier schools in their neighborhoods.
LEGISLATE: Passing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act
Starting this week, the House will be reviewing the Child Nutrition Act for re-authorization as it does every five years. The Child Nutrition Act ensures that children who live in poverty are able to get at least one good meal a day through the public school system. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, proposed this year, expands on the Child Nutrition Act by allocating $4.5 billion in new child nutrition program funding over ten years – $1.2 billion to address child hunger and $3.2 billion to promote health and reduce obesity. This bill, already passed by the Senate, includes the following:
- Expanding afterschool meals for at-risk children nationwide (including foster children)
- Piloting new, innovative ways to feed low-income families
- Improving the nutritional standards of public school lunches
- Promoting the Farm to School Program which provides local produce to schools
- Funding for the creation of gardens on school premises
What are your thoughts? How do you encourage healthier eating in your own home?