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Reuters reports that there is a collection of studies in the current American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggesting that not only is there no easy answer to the problem of childhood obesity, but that “environmental factors and policies conspire to challenge the health of children in America.”

In essence, the premise is that American kids don't really stand a chance. There is a plethora of television advertising for less-than-healthy products. The foods they are served in school are often marginally nutritious, at best. Time-stressed parents often rely on convenience foods – whether from fast food restaurants or convenience stores – to feed their children. And, because of school policies that have sometimes eliminated physical education from the curriculum and a cultural climate that often leads to kids sitting at the computer or the television, young people simply don't get nearly enough exercise.

It is a kind of “perfect storm,” says one of the study’s authors, Frank Chaloupka, an economics professor the University of Illinois at Chicago, “that will continue to feed the childhood obesity epidemic until we adopt policies that improve the health of our communities and our kids.”
KC's View:
I think this is a fair assessment – not a wildly surprising one, but fair.

The question is, what do you do about it?

The easy answer – and the one that most of us would prefer – is to say that parents have to do a better job of raising their children. If they cooked more and made sure that the family gathered around the table for dinner more often, and then went out and shot hoops or went bike riding with their kids, then maybe there would be less to worry about.

I also think parents have some institutional responsibilities – to force schools to serve better foods, teach nutrition and cooking, and hold gym classes; to vote for candidates who support things like the creation of bicycle lanes on streets and the development of parks so that there are more options. And maybe even support the idea of restricting hat kinds of ads are shown on kid-oriented television programs; while a parent can restrict TV time, I’m not sure there is anything wrong with asking companies – whether food manufacturers or television networks – to be responsible about how they use the airwaves.

It also is hard to apply easy answers to complicated issues. For example, definitions are very much in play from a legislative perspective, as they often are once one crosses the Beltway into Washington, DC. (“It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.”)

The Washington Post this morning writes that “in an attempt to limit the sale of high-calorie sodas, candy bars and other snacks in schools, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) has introduced has introduced a bill that would have the government set new nutritional standards for the foods and drinks that schools sell to students outside cafeterias. But just what those standards should be is the issue. Public health advocates want the standards to ban the sale of Gatorade and Powerade, which typically contain as much as two-thirds the sugar of sodas and more sodium, as well as sweetened waters such as VitaminWater and SoBe Life Water. Excessive sodium intake by young people could fuel a surge in high blood pressure, which until recently was considered a health threat only in later life, they said.”

Nothing is easy. One can expect this debate to go on for a one time, especially because there will plenty of lobbying on both sides of the issue.

This is a big problem, and it requires a holistic, multi-faceted and consistent approach. We can’t do much about the weather, but this is a perfect storm over which we can exert some influence and control.