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Editorial: 'Food Revolution' requires local, national solutions

May. 20, 2010 @ 10:24 PM

Two years' worth of national publicity has certainly put an exclamation point on the problem of obesity in the Tri-State.

Between national news reports and a television series, we now understand the statistics are bad and changes are needed if we are to avoid a rising tide of health problems and health care costs. In many ways, our community finds itself on the front lines of delving into the complexity of the problem and the questions that it raises.

Is this primarily an issue of personal responsibility, where individuals and families just need the education and commitment to improve their diet and exercise? Or is it a national public-policy issue that involves the food industry, school programs and government regulations?

We are learning that it's both.

Should communities focus on local initiatives or lobby for changes across the country?

Again, it seems we need to do both.

Take, for example, the school lunch program that was the focus of the "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" television series. Viewers learned that students are often served processed foods that are higher in fats, sugars and chemical preservatives.

At first blush, the show implied the problem was people -- children and parents who did not know any better, school employees who did not want to change. But as we dig deeper into the issue, we find that there are also layers of challenges with school lunch budgets and how the federal government subsidizes school lunch programs.

Schools in Cabell County are working to make meals healthier, and there is a lot that they can do. But to truly "revolutionize" the school lunch program, it will require changes on the state and federal level as well.

Beyond the classroom, there is a great need for local initiatives to educate and encourage the public to make changes in our lifestyles and eating habits. With each passing decade, our lives become more sedentary and our diet more vulnerable to the convenience of fast food restaurants and processed grocery items.

The choices each individual makes are critical, but there is a strong argument that the American food industry needs to take a greater responsibility in offering more healthy options. Too many heavily marketed foods items are "over the top" on calories, fat and sodium.

Considering that obesity and related diseases such as diabetes account for as much as 10 percent of our nation's skyrocketing health care costs, proposals for more regulation already are surfacing.

So, it's is encouraging to see a coalition of food industry giants -- including General Mills, Kraft Foods, Kellogg, Coca-Cola and Pepsi -- pledging to reduce the calorie counts of their products by 2015. The restaurant industry, which gets about half of the American food dollar, is beginning to pay attention as well.

The good news is that there is growing awareness of the problems of weight and people working on many fronts to improve the situation. The more difficult part is that solutions are more complex than they appear on reality TV.

We did not create this problem overnight, and it will take time and persistence to bring real change.

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