Editor's viewpoint: Obama and obesity
The First Lady has been effective in pushing through initiatives to try to tackle obesity
Ever since the start of President Obama's first term, his administration has been one of the more purposeful governments in trying to tackle obesity.
Childhood obesity was identified as a key priority from the outset, with the administration setting out to eliminate child obesity within a generation.
Such a statement - and its subsequent work - has marked out this administration from its predecessors, particularly George W. Bush, who had done little on the issue.
It could be argued the present US government has also been more determined than some of its counterparts around the globe. And two announcements last week demonstrate the Obama administration's anti-obesity drive is - even if it hits some bumps in the road - still moving.
On Tuesday (25 February), the US Department of Agriculture and First Lady Michelle Obama announced "school wellness standards", which included measures to ensure "unhealthy" snacks are not marketed at school.
Forty-eight hours later, the US government set out plans to change the Nutrition Facts labels on food and beverages sold in the country, with proposals for new information on areas including added sugar and serving sizes.
The Obama administration has made concerted efforts to try to tackle obesity in the US, not least the First Lady herself and her Let's Move campaign. Not all of the White House's plans have seen the light of the day; for example, proposals to introduce legislation around child-directed food advertising foundered.
However, the current US government's efforts, when compared to others around the world, do stand out.
Campaigners welcomed the latest proposals. The Center for Science in the Public Interest said the US government had made a "strong start" with its plans for the Nutrition Facts label, although it called for changes to the "Dairy Value" criteria, specifically on added sugars and sodium, that underpin the label.
The industry, of course, could baulk at some of the proposals for the Nutrition Facts label. The changes emphasising, for instance, added sugar could cause some furrowed brows in boardrooms. Should the changes be enacted (the proposals will be open for public comment for 90 days), they will likely raise costs for manufacturers, not just in the new labelling but also reformulation.
However, the CSPI's comments indicate the US government's latest efforts to tackle obesity are measured. The consumer watchdog, after all, wanted the administration to make more changes to the Nutrition Facts label than have been set out.
The Obama administration, including the First Lady, has sought to reach out to industry. On Thursday, Michelle Obama wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that said "every business in America needs to dig deeper" to tackle obesity but which also sought to praise the industry for its endeavours. She highlighted Wal-Mart's work on the pricing of fruit and veg and Disney's decision to remove ads for junk food from children's programming.
Some may argue the Obama administration has done less on obesity than it set out to do. There are critics of, for example, Facts Up Front, the industry-devised front-of-pack nutrition labels. The CSPI has called the labels a "joke" and wants the US government to design compulsory FOP labels.
However, in all, the Obama administration's work to tackle the problem while getting significant parts of the industry on board should be praised.
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