By April Sciacchitano (@aprilcs)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued millions in grant money to 25 states to fight obesity. While access and education are the typical weapons in the anti-obesity arsenal, some dollars are being applied to nutrition activism – essentially lobbying for policy changes around nutrition. Lobbying isn’t the intended use of these funds, and Washington Post’s George Will covers in a recent article that it’s not even legal to use federal funds to influence government. Funding aside, nutrition activism just might work.
A recent study shows that in the last decade, American children have decreased levels of bad cholesterol. With obesity rates trending up over the past decade, physicians point to a key change – it’s likely that decreased consumption of transfats made the difference. That doesn’t mean parents and children have been reviewing menus more carefully. Instead, it’s because of nutrition activism. In 2006, New York City banned restaurants from using transfats. And it was a good decision: it’s the first time in 20 years that there’s been such a decline in cholesterol levels in children.
There’s a similar positive effect when public schools take responsibility for the foods they serve and provide access to. Pediatricians conducted a study to compare BMI (body mass index) in children with the competitive food laws in their state. States with consistent, strong laws saw 5 percent fewer overweight students and 8 percent fewer obese students than in states without strong food laws. Strong laws were defined as specific and mandatory, using a scoring system from the National Cancer Institute.
Perhaps you believe that what we eat is none of the government’s business – but ultimately Americans need help. Policy isn’t the cure-all for the obesity epidemic, but it will go along way in solving critical access issues like school lunches and food deserts. We have choices, but we should have better choices. Parents shouldn’t have to check a restaurant’s nutrition facts to see if their food contains transfats; it just shouldn’t.