My name is Miriah Schneider, and I am a student at Arizona State University majoring in Exercise and Wellness. Our nation is in an obesity crisis. Obesity contributes to an estimated 112,000 preventable deaths each year. The prevalence of obesity has tripled among children in recent decades. According to the International Obesity Taskforce, 35% of American children are overweight or obese. Because obese children are likely to become obese adults, we need to make a change to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity.
Reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity would reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, as well as certain cancers. The reason we need to implement policies focused on children is that habits developed in childhood are likely to remain habits through adulthood.
If we want to improve the health of our nation, we need to begin with the children. Therefore, I am writing to you, Senator Sinema, requesting a proposal of a nationwide policy to reduce the prevalence of childhood obesity. Physical activity is essential to health by helping to control weight, strengthen bones and muscles, improve mental health, reduce the risk for chronic diseases and increase chances of living longer. One hour of moderate to vigorous physical activity is recommended for children and adolescents and only 1/3 meet those recommendations. To promote physical activity the schools should require daily physical education for students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12, allowing 150 minutes per week for elementary schools and 225 minutes per week for secondary schools. Physical education should also be required to teach students the importance and health benefits of being physically active and eating a nutritious balanced diet.
Another way to increase physical activity in youth is to improve access to outdoor and indoor recreational facilities. A simple way to improve access would be to allow the use of school facilities for physical activity programs offered by the school or community-based organizations outside of school hours. The built environment and community design also affect levels of physical activity. Our communities are designed to be car-dependent making it much harder for children to walk or bike to school. To increase levels of physical activity in children, communities need to build or enhance infrastructures to support walking and bicycling.
Unhealthy food is less expensive and more convenient than healthy food causing children to have a high calorie, low nutrient diet. We need to reduce the cost of healthy food and increase the cost of unhealthy food improving the balance of consumption. In the case of tobacco, increasing prices through higher taxes has been proven to reduce consumption and taxing unhealthy food would likely have a similar result. (2) Implementing bonus vouchers that provide increased value for purchases of fruit and vegetables under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) would increase demand by allowing people to receive more healthy foods from benefit entitlements.
High calorie, good-tasting, and inexpensive foods are heavily advertised, especially toward children. The more time children spend watching television, the more likely they are to eat while doing so and the more likely they are to eat the high-calorie foods that are advertised on television. By increasing exposure and access to healthy food and reducing exposure and access to unhealthy items, will encourage the consumption of healthy food. Counter advertisements showing the true impact of nutritionally harmful food and beverages could change the image of unhealthy food. Placing a ban or limit on advertising of unhealthy food directed at children under the age of twelve could also reduce the number of children purchasing fast food.
The public and government currently attribute obesity to failures in personal responsibility, avoiding the discussion of solutions at the population level. The industry will argue that government action intrudes on personal decisions emphasizing personal responsibility but undermines consumers’ ability to be responsible Government spending on healthy messages cannot compete with the industry because food marketers spend $1.6 billion a year to reach U.S. children and adolescents. Free market economies give power to the industry in policy-making which increases faith in industry self-regulation. Due to the free market economy, the government remains detached and is activated only when externalities become overwhelming but in public opinion polls and comments made by some legislators, indicate that perceptions of externalities are growing stronger.
Restricting marketing would place a limit on commercial speech which the First Amendment protects. To overcome the barriers, the industry needs to agree on nutrient standards that define junk food across international boundaries. Another way would be to restore and strengthen the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to protect children from marketing practices. Implementing a policy or policies that improve physical activity, reduce costs of healthy foods and limit unhealthy food marketing to children would decrease the prevalence of childhood obesity. I know this will not be easy, but it would improve population health. I appreciate your time and attention to this matter.