Winning the Battle Over Childhood Obesity

The Responsibility Of Parents

   Although the government could dramatically reduce the percentage of obese children in our country, full parental cooperation could virtually wipe out the obesity epidemic.                              The first course of action is for parents to make sure their child gets 2 hours of after school physical activity every day. I know many parents will say this idea is simply not practical due to lack of time for both parents and kids, lack of resources, and locations. Let’s look at several solutions for each of these seemingly impassable obstacles.

   First, let’s discuss the lack of time children seemingly have due to homework. The National PTA recommendations 10-20 minutes per night in the first grade, and an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter. In the study involving questionnaires filled out by more than 1,100 English and Spanish speaking parents of children in kindergarten through grade 12, researchers found children in the first grade had up to three times the homework load recommended by the NEA and the National PTA. Both the school board and parents need to work together on this issue by making sure schools abide by the 10 minute rule with a 1 hour cap on homework for students K-8.                                                                                                                                                 Next,let’s discuss another reason why kids may not have enough time to exercise.  In 2009, the Nielsen Co. reported that children’s television viewing had reached an eight-year high. Children ages 2 to 5 watched TV for more than 32 hours a week. Kids ages 6 to 8 spent 28 hours per week in front of the tube. The Kaiser Family Foundation also conducted research on the media habits of children ages 8 to 18. Kaiser found that on average, this age group spends 4½ hours each day watching TV in various forms, including on their mobile phones and computers.  

   It is the responsibility of the parents,not the government or children,to regulate time spent on the computer playing video games or watching TV. Simply slash 90 minutes of TV and computer time every day. Combining less TV and computer time along with the National PTA recommended daily homework time will create more than enough time for after school physical activity and,more importantly,your children will be healthier and happier.      

   Lastly, let’s discuss the issue of location. If you’re lucky enough to live an area with virtually no car traffic,simply allow your kids to play in the neighborhood.  What if you live in an high traffic area with no yards or playgrounds within walking distance? I have two options: First, children should be given full access to outdoor school fields and indoor courts after the school day is over. 1-2 volunteers can supervise the children while they play. Volunteers would be made up of teachers,parents, and non-profit organizations such as Big Brothers and Sisters Of America. Between all the parents,teachers,and volunteer groups, each adult shouldn’t have to watch the kids more than once or twice a year.      

   The second option would be to create a neighborhood play group on a social media site such as Facebook. The play group could include such information as the names of all the kids and parents,location of where the children will play,name(s) and contact information of the daily volunteer(s), and pick up time. When the school day is over, school buses can drive the kids directly to predetermined playtime location. Locations can include such places as recreational and community centers,churches,parks, ball fields, etc. Local businesses with access to large grassy areas,vacant lots, or large indoor facilities could be given a tax deduction for providing a safe space for children to play. Once again, parents, grandparents,and Big Brothers and Sisters Of America could volunteer to supervise the children. There are also many websites devoted to finding you volunteers such as, Stand Up For Kids, Volunteer Match, Network Good, etc.

 

           The Responsibility Of The Government

 

   There are several ways the government can drastically reduce the number of obese children in the United States. First, mandate a daily 1 hour PE class for all K-12 students. PE class should be totally devoted to physical activities such as soccer,basketball,football,tennis,tag,etc. PE class should not include any written assignments. Sounds like a no-brainer,right? According to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports,and Nutrition, only Oregon and the District of Columbia meet the national recommendations for weekly time(150 minutes) in physical education at both elementary and middle school levels.  Many states (31) allow other activities as substitutions for physical education credit and more than half of state policies (30) allow student exemptions from physical education class time or credit. A few states (15) allow school districts to apply for a waiver from the state physical education requirements. The health of our children should be priority number one. Physical Education should be added to every state’s Common Core State Standard along with English and math.            

   Secondly, The United States government should levy a tax on sugar,junk food, and processed foods. A few months back I purchased a peach at $3.79 a pound. Now this was a good size peach,but nothing out of the ordinary. The cost for that one peach was $4.01! The next day I walked into Shoppers Food Warehouse and noticed they had a special deal on day old colossal donuts. Let me give you some perspective on the size of these donuts. One Krispy Creme glazed donut is 190 calories and contains 11 grams of fat and 10 grams of sugar. One colossal glazed donut has a whopping 626 calories and contains 30 grams of fat and 31 grams of sugar. So what was the special deal? A box of 12 colossal donuts for $2.99. And some of these boxes had 5 regular sized donuts shoved into the box….. at no extra charge. These are daily deals I’ve seen at several other grocery stores as well.        

12 colossal donuts with 5 regular donuts squeezed on top..... $2.99

12 colossal donuts with 5 regular donuts squeezed on top..... $2.99

   How is this possible? Currently,instead of taxing sodas and other unhealthful food, our government subsidize them (with,I might note, tax dollars!).  Direct subsidies to farmers for crops like corn (used, for example, to make now-ubiquitous high-fructose corn syrup) and soybeans (vegetable oil) keep the prices of many unhealthful foods and beverages artificially low. There are indirect subsidies as well, because prices of junk foods don’t reflect the costs of repairing our health and the environment.            

    What will it take to get kids,and adults for that matter,to change their eating habits? Rather than subsidizing the production of unhealthful foods, we should turn the tables and tax things like sugary drinks, sugary foods such as cake and doughnuts, and hyperprocessed snacks. The resulting income should be earmarked for healthier food such as vegetables,fruit,nuts,seasonal greens, and dried legumes.  

    One need not look further than our neighbor to the south,Mexico,as an example of how taxing sugary beverages and junk food would reduce consumption. In 2014, Mexico enacted taxes on producers and importers of sugar sweeten beverages and of “junk food”. i.e., calorie dense processed food. The tax on sweeten beverages is one peso per liter, equivalent to roughly 0.2 cents per ounce or 9 percent of average prices. Initial reports suggest the beverage tax has been more than passed through to consumers, with retail prices increasing about 12 percent and soda purchases declining about 10 percent while water consumption has gone up.  Simply put: taxes would reduce consumption of unhealthful foods while increasing consumption of healthy foods and generate billions of dollars annually.          

    Another example how taxing a product can change peoples behaviors is by looking at the history of tobacco. The Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 required following health warning, prescribed by congress,to be placed on all cigarette packages sold in the United States:  

CAUTION: CIGARETTE SMOKING MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH.

Later warnings would go on to say that smoking causes lung cancer and heart disease and yet the cigarette companies were not as concerned with deadly warning labels on their product as they were with the tax hikes. Internal documents, disclosed in the tobacco lawsuits, show that the tobacco companies we well aware that raising cigarette prices is one of the most effective ways to prevent and reduce smoking, especially among kids. Here are a few examples of what the tobacco companies thought about taxing cigarettes.

    * Philip Morris: Of all the concerns, there is one - taxation - that alarms us the most. While marketing restrictions and public and passive smoking [restrictions] do depress volume, in our experience taxation depresses it much more severely. Our concern for taxation is, therefore, central to our thinking . 

   * Philip Morris: When the tax goes up, industry loses volume and profits as many smokers cut back. 

   * RJ Reynolds: If prices were 10% higher, 12-17 incidence [youth smoking] would be 11.9% lower.    

    * Philip Morris: Jeffrey Harris of MIT calculated...that the 1982-83 round of price increases caused two million adults to quit smoking and prevented 600,000 teenagers from starting to smoke...We don’t need to have that happen again.  

     * Philip Morris: A high cigarette price, more than any other cigarette attribute, has the most dramatic impact on the share of the quitting population...price, not tar level, is the main driving force for quitting.    

    Even the government knows that raising taxes on cigarettes is the most effective way to reduce the number of smokers:

The 2000 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report, reducing tobacco use, found that raising tobacco-product prices decreases the prevalence of tobacco use, particularly among kids and young adults, and that tobacco tax increases produce “substantial long-term improvements in health.” From its review of existing research, the report concluded that raising tobacco taxes is one of the most effective tobacco prevention and control strategies.

   The government knows warning labels have little effect of changing people behaviors and yet in 2010  the legislation provided $500 million for prevention and wellness grants, an amount that increases to $15 billion during the next 10 years. One of the most important provisions in the law is buried deep within the legislation itself. That provision requires any restaurant with 20 or more locations to include calorie counts on individual menus, menu boards and drive-through menus. The provision, which took effect in 2011, also will applies to foods sold in vending machines, including foods that do not have calorie listings on the front of the package. The result: People who ate at McDonalds saved 11 calories due to calorie count on menus. 

   Adding a calorie count label on food and beverages or menus does nothing to change the poor eating behaviors of children and adults. Our government throws millions of dollars at a problem that can be fixed for free. The childhood obesity epidemic in this country is serious. However, the solution is very simple:

1.  Add a 1 hour PE class to the K-12 school curriculum.                                                            2. Add a sugar tax. Increasing the cost of sugary beverages and food will decrease consumption of unhealthy food. Furthermore, use the sugar tax revenue to subsidize healthy food.                          3.  Make sure every child gets 2 hours of after school physical activity.