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Following Up on the Childhood Obesity Meeting

Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy Melody Barnes discusses the meeting that brought teachers and child advocates, doctors and nurses, business leaders and public servants, researchers and health experts together to talk about about this important issue.

We had a great meeting yesterday! We had teachers and child advocates, doctors and nurses, business leaders and public servants, researchers and health experts talking together about what we can do to solve the problem of childhood obesity. Cabinet officials – Education Secretary Duncan, Interior Secretary Salazar, and Office of Management and Budget Director Orszag – along with the Surgeon General and others talked about what this epidemic could cost us in the long run, how we can make our schools healthier, and how to get kids moving after school and in their communities. We then broke up into smaller groups so the participants could share their thoughts on the most important steps we can take together to combat childhood obesity. Here are some of their thoughts:

  • Parents should be able to raise their kids in an environment that empowers them to make healthy choices. That includes the messages they’re receiving from advertising and marketing and the labels on the food they’re buying. Parents and other caregivers also need clear, consistent messages about the simple steps they can take to build a healthy life for their kids from day one.
  • The food supply coming into schools must be improved, and we need everyone from the person working on the lunch line every day to the superintendent engaged in making sure that schools are healthy places. Kids also need to be involved in the process, and actively learning about healthy eating.
  • Improving access to healthy, affordable food is a complex task, but key elements include tailoring strategies to local communities (for example, bringing mobile grocery stores to rural areas that don’t have the population to support a supermarket); expanding access to nutrition assistance programs, since hunger and obesity often co-exist; and remembering that breast milk is the first healthy food that we can provide to our children.
  • We can get our children physically active by building that opportunity into the structure of the school day; through better land use planning so that children have safe routes to a playgrounds and parks; and by putting the fun back in physical activity for all of us, parents and children.

In the meantime, you were listening at home and weighing in on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. We asked you to tell us your ideas to end childhood obesity within a generation and we heard from thousands of you. Here are some of the things we heard:

  • “Use school as the springboard. Have kids taste and appreciate different foods in class.”
  • “Educate parents. Children make the choices they are given. If the parents do not eat well, neither will the child.”
  • “The Presidential Fitness Program really needs to make a comeback.”

Our report detailing an action plan to solve this problem is due to the President in about a month. We’re going to take all this feedback and, together with all the expertise around the federal government, turn it into a roadmap for how we can move in the right direction together.

P.S. We’ve been reading through the thousands of written comments we got back from a few weeks ago and people sent in some great information. For instance, we heard from children in a 2nd grade class in California who plant their own fruits and vegetables, and then host a monthly harvest where they learn about the nutrients in these healthy foods and then get to snack away on them. Stay engaged – it’s stories like this that we all like to hear and that spark our imagination.

Melody Barnes is Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy