The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

The Next Generation of Entrepreneurs and Childhood Obesity: A Clarion Call to Action?

The Next Generation of Entrepreneurs and Childhood Obesity: A Clarion Call to Action?

Shoppers and Trends

July 25, 2010

In our industry we are aware of the constant challenge to find the next generation of talented individuals to lead our businesses. We commonly refer to this at N.G.A. as the “Finding the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs” initiative. And there is no question that this focus is important to the successful succession of family-owned businesses. Yet there is one area in which we do not invest enough time. Business leaders and elected officials need to dedicate more time to the health and well being of the next generation.

U.S. childhood obesity rates have tripled over the past 30 years. Between 1998 and 2008, the number of states reporting 40% or more of young adults as obese jumped from one to 39, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP). What can or should we do to address this problem?
We should not legislate the choices parents make with their children at home. It should be the parents’ prerogative to decide what their children eat outside of school and in their “home-packed” school lunch. But clearly we need to do more to ensure that the food and beverages that schools provide are not having a harmful effect on the children. According to the CDCP, as much as 40% of a child’s daily caloric intake occurs at school. Additionally, parents and schools need to improve the amount and type of exercise children receive.
Moreover, it appears that increasing access to healthy and nutritious food is as important as improving the quality of school lunches, as hunger and food insecurity contributes to childhood obesity. Children who experience hunger can also be obese because they are more likely to be served low cost, highly caloric foods. A good deal of research demonstrates that subsidizing more nutritious meals helps children from low income households maintain a healthy weight.
The new health law that the Obama administration released on July 14th features rules specifying which preventative health services insurers must provide to consumers at no additional costs. For children, it includes pediatric visits, vision and hearing screenings, immunization, and obesity screenings. Congress is now considering additional resources to help improve children’s diets. 

Both the Senate and House are moving forward with bills for $10 million in additional funds to improve child nutrition programs. The Senate bill calls for $4.5 billion, while the House bill provides $8 billion. To put the cost of childhood obesity into context, according to the CDCP, we spent $75 billion last year on health care costs related to obesity.
There are some estimates that indicate at least nine million young adults, ages 17 to 24, are obese. That is 27% of all Americans. We cannot allow the next generation to have one in four young adults become obese. This is a clarion to action for all leaders. Let’s ensure we make this important issue a priority in each of our businesses and in each of our communities.