Fighting fat | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Fighting fat

Posted By on Wed, May 10, 2006 at 5:34 AM

NY Times editorial writer Eleanor Randolph has written a lengthy op-ed (subscribers only), proposing 10 things to do about the "Big Fat American Kid Crisis." The list includes the likes of curtailing junk food ads, banning junk food in school, imposing a junk food tax and urging healthier habits. On this last item, Gov. Huckabee gets a plug.

It's time for elected officials, and other prominent people, especially young people, to use their bully pulpits, and the powers of their office or their fame, to send a message to kids about how to eat right. One excellent model in this regard is Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, who has made healthy living a personal crusade.

Huckabee was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, and his doctors told him that if he didn't lose weight, he wasn't likely to live much longer. Huckabee, who used to joke that he weighed almost as much as a cement truck, dropped more than 100 pounds, and began such an intense exercise regime that he now runs marathons.

As a missionary for healthier living, the Arkansas governor speaks publicly, often, about the importance of healthy eating and exercise. And he has launched a program called "Healthy Arkansas," which encourages people to exercise and eat well. Among other things, the state allows workers a half hour off each day to exercise and free pedometers are available to help measure how many miles they cover per workday.

And again on subsidizing healthy foods:

Governor Huckabee of Arkansas has been trying to change his state's food stamps program to give a bonus to people when they spend money on fruits and vegetables, and reducing the value of the food stamps when they are spent on junk food. It is a great idea, but sadly the federal government has been resisting granting permission — and it is hard to believe the political influence of Big Food isn't part of the reason.

Members of Congress should amend the food stamps law to build in an express reward for spending directed at healthy food, and a penalty for buying junk. Other states should also follow Governor Huckabee's lead and push for state-level changes.

Bill Clinton's efforts get a plug, too, including the deal in with the soft drink industry in which he and Huckabee announced some voluntary limits on school soda sales. Randolph raises issues we've raised before. (Clinton would see we're letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.)

It is an important step, though it does not go as far as it should. The ban does not cover sports drinks or diet sodas, both of which present health risks for young people. It also does not cover all of the many non-beverage products that continue to be dangled before children at school. And it does not cover high school, where the need for better nutrition is every bit as great as in the lower grades.

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