Weight of the Nation: Time for Reassessment

May 4th, 2012 by MorganDowney Leave a reply »

Next week, the CDC will be holding their fourth “Weight of the Nation” conference on obesity. This is a critical time to assess the nation’s anti-obesity strategies. We need a rigorous look at what is working and what is not working. We need to dump the latter, stress the former and search for new strategies.

The Obama Administration, famous for the attention the First Lady has brought to the childhood obesity issue, has, in fact, a worse record than the Bush Administration.

This April, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued “The 2012 FDA Foods and Veterinary Medicine Program Strategies. Goal 4 relates to obesity and creating a healthier diet. Here are the Obama goals.

Program Goal 4:  Provide accurate and useful information so consumers can choose a

healthier diet and reduce the risk of chronic disease and obesity

Objective 1. Update the Nutrition Facts label.

4.1.1:  Publish proposed rules updating the nutrition facts label and serving sizes.

4.1.2:  Publish final rules updating the nutrition facts label and serving sizes.

Objective 2. Implement menu and vending machine labeling regulations.

4.2.1:  Publish final menu and vending machine labeling regulations.

4.2.2:  Collaborate with states, localities and other partners to ensure high rates of compliance.

Objective 3. Improve consumer access to and use of nutrition information.

4.3.1: Explore front‐of‐pack nutrition labeling opportunities.

4.3.2: Collaborate with public/private sector parties on nutrition education.

4.3.3: Implement updated standards for the labeling of pet food including nutrition and ingredient information.

4.3.4: Implement standards for animal feed ingredients.

4.3.5: Publish final rule defining and permitting use of the term “gluten free” in the labeling of foods

FDA: Foods and Veterinary Medicine Program

The underlined recommendations are carry-overs from the Bush 2004 Calories Count recommendations, see FDA:Calories Count_2004

What’s new? The front-of-package labeling for one, although this has been under development at the FDA since I proposed putting calories on the front of the package in 2003. Also new are: the labeling of pet food, animal feed and defining “gluten free.” Wow! Way to Go!

What did the Obama plan drop from the Bush Administration Plan? Here’s the list: encouraging food manufacturers to provide sound dietary advice; define ‘low, free, reduced’ carbohydrates; focus on food manufacturers providing accurate portion size information; partnerships with other agencies, especially research on FDA-approved products which cause weight gain, and research on obesity and weight gain and food consumption patterns.

Two items on the Bush list were completed: regulating health claims on foods and revising the guidance for developers of anti-obesity drugs.

In fact, the Bush obesity plan was even more ambitious, addressing dietary supplements, drugs and surgery. FDA:Crawford:Calories Count

So, you might say that the Obama plan is not directed wholly at obesity, only at foods and veterinary medicine (interesting pairing there don’t you think?). Well, the answer is that the Obama’s FDA doesn’t have an overall strategy plan addressing obesity. Fact is Bush did and Obama does not and the Obama plan is a scaled down version of the Bush plan.

Interestingly, it seems that all of Bush plans to pressure food manufacturers have been tossed. This comes on the heel of the investigative report from Reuters showing how the food and beverage industry has consistently won childhood obesity battles in Washington and in the states. Reuters: How Washington Went Soft on Childhood Obesity

The Weight of the Nation Conference is the perfect time to re-examine not only the role of the FDA and the federal government but other public health policies intended to prevent obesity or facilitate its reduction. More on these policies shortly.

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