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Friday, July 20, 2007

$1 billion for nutrition isn't buying much

No one tuned into regular news has missed the rising obesity epidemic in the United States, so it's no surprise the federal government has ponied up over $1 billion to help encourage kids to eat healthy. Sadly, this initiative hasn't shown much effect:
an Associated Press review of scientific studies examining 57 [nutrition] programs found mostly failure...

Last year a major federal pilot program offering free fruits and vegetables to school children showed fifth graders became less willing to eat them than they had been at the start...

In studies where children tell researchers they are eating better or exercising more, there is usually no change in blood pressure, body size or cholesterol measures; they want to eat better, they might even think they are, but they're not.
What's the problem? A clear misunderstanding of the right pressure points. Point one - parents.
Experts agree that although most funding targets schools, parents have the greatest influence, even a biological influence, over what their children will eat.
Point two - Advertising
Children ages 8 to 12 see an average of 21 television ads each day for candy, snacks, cereal and fast food - more than 7,600 a year, according to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study. Not one of the 8,854 ads reviewed promoted fruits or vegetables.

There was one ad for healthy foods for every 50 for other foods.

Ironically, one of the major failures of the programs might be that increased pressure from other federal legislation - No Child Left Behind - pressures schools to drop physical education and recess for more class time. And yet,
School programs that increase physical activity are also more likely to have an impact than nutrition education.
Summary: the government's program is ineffective, even more so because of advertising for junk food.


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