Obama establishes task force on childhood obesity

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama this morning signed a presidential memorandum on childhood obesity that will create the first federal task force on childhood obesity. The task force, which will include high level officials within the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Education, will be charged with developing a comprehensive interagency action plan to combat obesity.

“Across our country, childhood obesity has reached epidemic rates and, as a result, our children may live shorter lives than their parents,” Mr. Obama said. “Obesity has been recognized as a problem for decades, but efforts to address this crisis to date have been insufficient. My administration is committed to redoubling our efforts to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation through a comprehensive approach that builds on effective strategies, engages families and communities, and mobilizes both public and private sector resources.”

The creation of the obesity task force is part of a larger, nationwide campaign unveiled by First Lady Michelle Obama to end the problem of childhood obesity in a single generation. The program, called “Let’s Move,” has set forth many initiatives, including getting parents more involved in nutrition and exercise, improving the quality of food in schools and making healthy foods more affordable and accessible.

“The first lady will lead a national public awareness effort to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity,” Mr. Obama said. “She will encourage involvement by actors from every sector — the public, nonprofit, and private sectors, as well as parents and youth — to help support and amplify the work of the federal government in improving the health of our children.

“But to meet our goal, we must accelerate implementation of successful strategies that will prevent and combat obesity. Such strategies include updating child nutrition policies in a way that addresses the best available scientific information, ensuring access to healthy, affordable food in schools and communities, as well as increasing physical activity and empowering parents and caregivers with the information and tools they need to make good choices for themselves and their families.

“To succeed, these efforts must be strategically targeted, and accountability should be clear. They will help our children develop lifelong healthy habits, ensuring they reach their greatest potential toward building a healthier and more prosperous America.”

Mr. Obama said the task force on childhood obesity will use the next 90 days to develop and submit to him a comprehensive interagency plan that:
• details a coordinated strategy by executive departments and agencies to meet the objectives of the task force and identifies areas for reform to ensure complementary efforts and avoid duplication, both across the federal government and between other public or nongovernmental actors;
• includes comprehensive, multi-sector strategies from each member executive department, agency, or office and describes the status and scope of its efforts to achieve this goal;
• identifies key benchmarks and provides for regular measurement, assessment, and reporting of executive branch efforts to combat childhood obesity;
• describes a coordinated action plan for identifying relevant evidence gaps and conducting or facilitating needed research to fill those gaps;
• assists in the assessment and development of legislative, budgetary, and policy proposals that may improve the health and well-being of children, their families, and communities; and
• describes potential areas of collaboration with other public or nongovernmental actors, taking into consideration the types of implementation or research objectives the federal government, other public actors, or nongovernmental actors may be particularly well-situated to accomplish.

In a separate announcement, Mrs. Obama was named an honorary chair of the Partnership for a Healthier America foundation, which was launched Feb. 9 as a means to unite the public and private sectors in the effort to solve the childhood obesity challenge. The non-partisan organization was created by a number of leading foundations and nonprofits, including The California Endowment, Kaiser Permanente, Nemours, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

“Since 1980, the number of obese children in our nation has tripled, and obesity now rivals smoking as the largest cause of preventable death and disease,” said Larry Kocot, interim leader of the organization. “This new foundation creates an important public-private alliance that will increase national attention and commitments to the goal of ending the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation.”

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