First Lady Calls for Coordinated Effort to Reduce Childhood Obesity

BY Lea Winerman  May 11, 2010 at 1:50 PM EDT

A federal task force called for marketers of sugary and other unhealthy foods to voluntarily limit their advertising to children on Tuesday. The recommendation is one of 70 in a wide-ranging new report on reducing childhood obesity that was commissioned by President Obama earlier this year.

First Lady Michelle Obama and White House Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes, who headed the task force that wrote the report, presented the findings. Mrs. Obama said that the group has set measurable goals to reduce the percentage of children classified as obese from 20 percent today to 5 percent by 2030.

“We don’t need new discoveries or new inventions to reduce this trend — all we need is the motivation and the willpower to do what needs to be done,” the first lady said.

Read the full report here [[PDF](http://www.letsmove.gov/tfco_fullreport_may2010.pdf)].

The goals include a wide range of recommendations aimed at reducing children’s consumption of unhealthy food, increasing access to affordable healthy food, and increasing physical activity. Among the many recommendations, which involve federal agencies, state and local governments and private industry:

• Encourage the food industry to extend its self-regulation of children’s advertising from television, print, radio and Internet ads to all forms of advertising, including in-store ads and product packaging. And if the self-regulation doesn’t work, the Federal Communications Commission should consider revisiting its rules in the area.

• Encourage local governments to provide incentives to get supermarkets to locate in underserved urban and rural areas — so-called “food deserts,” where access to fresh produce and other health foods is scarce.

• Increase the number of high school students enrolled in physical education classes from 30 percent now to 50 percent by 2030, and increase the number of elementary schools that offer recess from 79 percent today to 95 percent by 2015.

Childhood obesity rates have been rising sharply since the 1970s (that’s the last time they were as low as 5 percent), but the issue has gained new attention this year as Michelle Obama has made it one of her major causes as first lady.

The NewsHour health unit traveled to Mississippi recently to explore the challenge of childhood obesity in a state that where 44 percent of children are obese or overweight — the highest percentage in the country. A series of upcoming broadcast and online reports will examine the roots of the obesity epidemic there and look at what local schools, community activists, parents and others are doing to combat it. Watch for the series in the coming weeks.