Target: child obesity

Two ideas were put forth this week in an effort to rein in child obesity — one small but encouraging, the other urging an outrageous new standard of government control.

Neither idea will end our epidemic of child obesity. But they both hint at a growing recognition of the problem, and perhaps the emergence of a sustained national effort to attack childhood obesity, much as we began attacking smoking two decades ago.

The most recent front in the fight against child obesity comes from a coalition of food companies. On Thursday, they announced new standards to control advertising of food products aimed at children. The standards are based in part on the nutritional value of the food. For instance, breakfast cereal with more than 10 grams of sugar per serving could not be marketed toward youngsters.

The food companies didn’t spontaneously develop these rules out of the goodness of their hearts. The voluntary limits are a response to stricter rules proposed earlier this year by the Federal Trade Commission and other federal entities. But it is a reasonable attempt to begin to change our long-standing practices on selling food to parents through advertising aimed at their children.

“Reasonable” is not a term we would attach to Dr. David Ludwig’s idea, put forth this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The Boston doctor and a colleague affiliated with Harvard suggested the government should remove extremely obese children from their parents and raise them in healthier fashion.

That’s a frightening step that raises questions about government intervention in family life, not only when children are in immediate danger, but when government disagrees with parents’ tactics.

Moreover, as some critics of Ludwig noted, parents aren’t solely to blame for obese children. Advertising, peer pressure, school vending machines and fast-food restaurants all contribute.

Ludwig’s plan goes too far. But it’s clear we need to do more as a nation to curb obesity, beginning with overweight children.

Diabetes, strokes, heart problems and orthopedic issues can all be linked to obesity. Some 2 million children in this country are considered extremely obese and a study a week ago shows the nation’s overall obesity rate is growing at an alarming rate.

A national effort that changes advertising toward children, increases taxes on high sugar foods such as soft drinks, offers incentives for people to eat healthier and exercise more while boosting education in those areas, should be on our menu.


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