Alex Binkley - Child obesity on the menu


The Harper cabal even studies obesity in secret

Child obesity on the menu in Ottawa and Washington

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective

20 May 2011 Ottawa — Health officials in Canada and the United States are wrestling with obesity in young people but the American process is a much more public affair.

In Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) has begun a low-key public consultation, called a National Dialogue on Healthy Weights, to deal with what many in the health field consider an epidemic. Although the consultation was announced March 7, some in the food industry were unaware of it when contacted for comment. A parade of medical, food industry and health groups appeared before the Commons health committee in the weeks after the announcement and never mentioned the consultation in their presentations on dealing with the issue.

South of the border, four federal agencies in Washington are very much in the spotlight as they search for a workable way of helping consumers eat smart. The Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Department of Agriculture were sent back to the drawing board by Congress, which felt the first attempt to educate Americans about the dangers of being overweight was too cumbersome.

In a joint statement, the agencies said they wanted public comment on proposed voluntary guidelines for food companies in improving the nutritional quality of foods marketed to young people. They want to encourage “stronger and more meaningful self-regulation” by food makers and to help parents in providing more healthful foods to their children. Provisions in the guidelines would start coming into effect in 2016.

A PHAC release says governments are engaging Canada’s youth, parents and caregivers, and multiple sectors of society in a national Internet based conversation called Our Health Our Future.

“The outcomes will contribute to a report and recommendations on collective actions for healthy weights for the meeting of federal, provincial and territorial Health Ministers in November 2011,” the release says. “As the first national dialogue of its kind, a broad and diverse group will come together to take collective action on this important health issue.”

The ministers agreed at their annual meeting last September to develop a joint plan to combat obesity. They want to increase the availability of nutritious foods, discourage junk food and encourage more physical activity.

Derek Nighbor, Senior Vice-President of the Food and Consumer Products of Canada, which represents large food manufacturers, says the American initiative began as joint exercise involving food industry, academic, and government representatives. It came up with an icon system that displayed the nutritional value of foods. It proved too complicated and too confusing for consumers so the government agencies were tasked with trying to develop a more helpful system.

In Canada, some provinces have outlawed junk food from school vending machines. The federal government has implemented nutrition facts boxes that list how much fat and calories foods and beverages contain.

The health committee didn’t get to write a report for the government before the May 2 election was called but Nighbor says its hearings did make clear how complicated the issue.

“It’s not just a matter of a tax on junk food. It has to do with levels of physical activity as well as genetic, cultural and educational factors.”

PHAC says in its release the consultation is intended to alert Canadians to the impact of childhood obesity on physical, emotional and social health and to make the public aware of the factors contributing to it.

“Childhood overweight and obesity rates have been rising steadily in Canada in recent decades, bringing both immediate and long-term health outcomes,” the release says. “Currently, more than one-in-four Canadian children are overweight or obese. Childhood obesity poses serious health risks. Obese children are more likely to become obese adults with all associated health risks. For example, obesity is a common risk factor for many chronic diseases such as heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

“If we do not reverse the trend of childhood obesity, today’s children may have less healthy and possibly shorter lives than their parents,” the statement adds.

The U.S. says one in three children is overweight or obese, and the rates are even higher among some racial and ethnic groups.

“To their credit, some of the leading companies are already reformulating products and rethinking marketing strategies to promote healthier foods to kids,” the joint statement said. “But we all have more work to do before we can tip the scales to a healthier generation of children. This proposal encourages all food marketers to expand voluntary efforts to reduce kids’ waistlines.”

It wants advertising and marketing to encourage children to choose from food groups including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk products, fish, extra-lean meat and poultry, eggs, nuts or seeds, and beans. In addition, the saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars, and sodium in foods marketed to children should be limited to minimize the negative impact on children’s health and weight.

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