Child obesity task force: stacking the deck against parents and health

Feb 11, 2010 by

As of Tuesday, a White House task force made up of cabinet secretaries and other officials has 90 days to come up with a strategy to reduce childhood obesity. It’s a worthy use of their time. One-third of American 8- to 10-year-olds are now obese.

I’m sure the first thing this bureaucratic task force will no doubt tackle is the government’s own role in causing the problem. Our food system, which includes government subsidies for growing the ingredients of processed foods, notably the ubiquitous high fructose corn syrup, has conspired to make junk foods the cheapest eats option. We pay the huge food companies to grow and produce junk food, and they in turn spend millions on advertising to kids and the rest of us.

I bet the first thing the task force will do is to insist we quit subsidizing processed junk food. The obvious answer is to tax junk food makers instead and turn around and subsidize fruit and vegetable growers, so that what’s good for us is cheaper than what’s making us so fat. Or maybe they’ll do something about the way junk food is pushed to kids. They could outlaw advertising to kids like they do in Scandinavia, for example. Or they could put real money into real food for school lunches, instead of feeding the kids cheap junk at school.

I’m a little worried, though, because Michelle Obama, the figurehead of this effort to reverse the obesity trend, seems to be focused only on empowering parents to take charge against obesity. She wants to make them responsible for the solution.

“Our kids don’t choose to make food products with tons of sugar and sodium in super-sized portions, and then to have those products marketed to them everywhere they turn,” Mrs. Obama said. “And no matter how much they beg for pizza, fries and candy, ultimately they are not, and should not, be the ones calling the shots at dinnertime. We’re in charge.”

Our first lady has certainly got a point. That’s all true. It’s not our kids’ fault. They don’t know what’s good for them, and we parents do, or we should. We do have to be in charge and we are responsible. But how much the government can do about that part of the problem is questionable. And, what about the government’s own contribution in creating and providing those food products that make us all fat? Can we do something about that?

It all seems suspiciously like one of those cases when the investigator looking for the murderer is the murderer.

“Many parents desperately want to do the right thing,” Mrs. Obama continues, “but they feel the deck is stacked against them. They know their kids’ health is their responsibility, but they feel like it’s completely out of their control.”

All that’s right, too. But what exactly is this “deck stacked” against parents to feed kids well? Why are parents so powerless? Of course, they do have some choice in the matter, but why is the government making it harder to do what they want us to do, and what is good for us? If the deck is stacked, and it is, we can thank the government itself for a fair chunk of the deck. It’s like enticing a dog with a treat and then smacking him when he reaches for it.

ORGANIC, LOCALLY GROWN fresh produce at the farmers' market is expensive. But it's the best thing for us. Hey, government task force on obesity, how about some subsidies? Photo by Anna Migeon

My only hope is that a house divided against itself cannot stand, and that the task force manages to clean up the government’s role in this whole thing.

Then we parents will be freer to do our part.

Related post:

Dinner Table Lessons from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

©  Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 11 February 2010 / All rights reserved

This post was featured on Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday on 12 Feb. 2010.


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