Broad focus on wellness needed (commentary)

Broad focus on wellness needed (commentary)

SODA is a serious matter -- at least that's how Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City health commissioner, recently portrayed it on CNBC.

That's an arguable position, but one thing's for certain: There's no denying the high-profile nature of the New York City ban on large sizes of sugary beverages.

That's not likely to fade anytime soon. The New York State Supreme Court's ruling on the ban as unconstitutional will keep the issue hopping.

In the same interview, Farley suggested that New York City is ready to pursue the appeal process as far as possible. So, the fight is on.

From strictly a health perspective, the law is well intentioned. After all, obesity and type 2 diabetes are increasingly problematic and have adverse effects on society, but the ban has significance for the entire food industry.

Soda represents the slippery slope. What's next? Perhaps there'll be limits on pizza, fries and milk shakes. Heck, maybe we'll even limit avocado purchases to one per shopping trip (since two avocados equal about 550 calories, which is even more than the average 32 oz. fountain drink). Where does it all stop?

I'm not saying we should ignore obesity, especially when it comes to children. The physical and psychological impact of obesity is trending in a dangerous direction. Failure to reverse course means that successive generations are headed toward even more long-term health problems related to overeating.        

Solving the problem, though, is far more complex than randomly making certain foods harder to get.

The complexity was underscored in a recent survey, "A Poll about Children & Weight: Crunch Time During the American Work & School Week -- 3PM to Bed," sponsored by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health. Some of the key findings related to daily challenges included the following:

* Parents fully understand the importance of diet and exercise for their children, but many find it difficult to facilitate good habits within the confines of their normal schedules.

* Crunch time -- 3 p.m. to bedtime -- is regularly when children consume foods and drinks that lead to excessive weight gain, often with parents' approval.

As parents, we clearly have work to do on the issue, but it goes beyond that. The problem can't be solved until there's some recognition that it even exists.

The survey also revealed that most American adults understand the perils of obesity, but as parents, most don't perceive their own children as being at risk of becoming overweight as adults.

Similarly, parents' assessment of their children's weight does not line up with national statistics. According to parents surveyed, 73% believe their children are "about the right weight," 14% are "a little overweight" and only 1% are "very overweight." National data, however, suggest that 32% of children are overweight, with 17% being obese.

Last, parents often don't recognize or believe there's any connection between daily dietary decisions and unhealthy weight gain.

The obesity problem increasingly defines how Americans live out their daily life, but the reality is that it extends far beyond being simply a matter of portions and food choices.

Despite Farley's proclamation of the seriousness of problems caused by soda consumption, banning certain foods doesn't provide anything substantive to change the broader trajectory.

What's really needed to solve the obesity issue, especially when it comes to future generations, is a comprehensive emphasis on wellness.

*Dr. Nevil C. Speer is with Western Kentucky University and serves on the board of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a national organization devoted to engaging livestock producers and livestock health professionals in developing solutions for issues in the livestock industry.

Volume:85 Issue:14

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