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Will Congress Undercut Progress Against Childhood Obesity?


Senior Policy Analyst Zoë Neuberger’s new commentary explains why a lobbying campaign to reverse recent reforms in the school meals, school snacks, and WIC programs threatens to set back efforts to reduce childhood obesity.  Here’s the opening:

With congressional committees expected this week to approve the annual Agriculture Department funding bill, which covers the child nutrition programs, industry lobbyists are promoting measures that would undercut reforms designed to improve children’s nutrition and combat childhood obesity.

Child obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years and poses a serious health threat.  Obese youth are more likely to have pre-diabetes or risk factors for cardiovascular disease.  In addition, children who are obese are likely to be obese as adults, which increases their risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and several types of cancer.  Just yesterday, a statement issued by the United Nations Human Rights Commission asserted that “Unhealthy diets are now a greater threat to global health than tobacco.”

Recently, some progress has been made.  The rise in child obesity rates has halted, and obesity may even be falling among preschoolers.  A multi-pronged response to child obesity by the federal government and health professionals appears to be playing an important role in these developments.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have stated that federal policy reforms in child nutrition programs — such as the 2009 revisions to the WIC food package — may have contributed to improved diets and the halt in the rise in obesity rates among low-income preschool children.

But these reforms are now in jeopardy.  In three areas where the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has implemented policies to improve children’s diets based on recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine — school meals, school snacks, and foods offered by the WIC program — affected industries are seeking to reverse those science-based policies in the upcoming agriculture appropriations bill.

Click here for the full commentary.