America's weight problem
America's waistline war can only be won one person at a time. But it's good to have Washington working to make it easier to reduce our girth, and pressing the food industry to help, too, by voluntarily offering healthier choices.
Washington can't legislate healthy eating, a message that officials and first lady Michelle Obama fortunately seem to have gotten. Expanding the nanny state - by imposing punitive taxes on offending foods or mandating limits on the salt or sugar in processed foods - isn't likely to be very effective. The public doesn't like it very much when government tries to police its diet.
Nudging individuals and the food industry to voluntarily join the battle of the bulge is a better approach, and more likely to be effective.
One example of that approach is Michelle Obama's effort to convince members of the National Restaurant Association to offer smaller portions and children's meals with healthy items like carrots and apples rather than French fries and soda. The 380,000-member trade group should sign on to the movement for a more svelte public. Trying to enlist its members is the latest front in the first lady's campaign to reduce childhood obesity, an effort that has made her the face of the effort. It's a key role. Every movement needs a leader, the more famous the better.
A recent success is Wal-Mart Stores' announcement that it will lower its fruit and vegetable prices and reduce the amount of salt and sugar in the prepared foods it sells.
One in three adults in the United States, and one in six children, is obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That epidemic has contributed to higher rates of maladies such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, and added about $127 billion a year to the cost of medical care.
There is a role for Washington beyond the bully pulpit. Providing up-to-date information, such as the new federal dietary guidelines announced this month, is one example. Recent action by Congress requiring schools to include more fruits and vegetables in their lunches is another.
But ultimately, it's up to each person to watch their weight and to teach their children healthy eating habits. Food companies, grocery stores and restaurants will offer healthier fare if enough customers demand it. But we still have to eat it.