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GMA voices views on childhood obesity strategies

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 22-Oct-2010

The food industry recognizes the need to change the way it makes and markets its products, the Grocery Manufacturers Association said in a presentation to an IOM childhood obesity prevention committee on Thursday.

The GMA’s vice president for federal affairs Scott Faber spoke at a meeting of the Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) Food and Nutrition Board Workshop on Legal Strategies in Childhood Obesity Prevention, reiterating the industry’s backing for Michelle Obama’s goal of ending childhood obesity within a generation.

Faber also raised questions about the effect of television advertising on children, citing a new research review from professor of strategic management and public policy, J. Howard Beales, at the George Washington University School of Business.

Inconclusive advertising link

His review assesses the literature published since an IOM report on food advertising to children in 2006, which found a strong association between exposure to television advertising and obesity – but could not find sufficient evidence that it was advertising itself that was the cause of increased obesity rates in children who watched the most television.

Beales concluded that the studies reviewed “do not significantly change the weight of the evidence, and they do not strengthen the case for concluding that the relationship between television viewing and adiposity is caused by advertising. The evidence remains inadequate to rule out plausible alternative hypotheses.”

Faber said in his presentation to the IOM panel that although the evidence may not be conclusive about whether television advertising of foods to children contributes to obesity, or whether it is the sedentary behavior of television-watching itself, the food industry recognizes that it needs to act.

“Though there remain many questions on how to effectively address the obesity crisis, industry recognizes the need to change the way we make and market our products, and we pledge to continue to do even more,” he said.

Ask, don’t tell

Faber also criticized proposals, currently under consideration in New York City, to prevent SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participants from buying sugary drinks with food stamps.

“Ultimately, solutions to childhood obesity … are solutions that trust Americans – not tell Americans – to make the healthy choice,” Faber said.We should not be limiting choice, as some have proposed, but should instead be doing more to make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

He said that there have been several arguments put forward about why food stamps should continue to be valid for the purchase of sugary drinks.

“It’s discriminatory, it’s hard to implement, or it will discourage program participation,” he said. “I think the best argument is it simply won’t work. SNAP participants will simply use cash to purchase prohibited items.”

Faber added that the GMA supports the guiding principles of the IOM for overhauling front-of-pack nutrition information: They should include nutrients most strongly associated with diet-related health risks affecting the greatest number of Americans; consistency with the Nutrition Facts Panel; and they should apply to as many foods as possible.

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