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Experts offer remedies to childhood obesity

July 8, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
One in three American children are overweight, and that puts them at risk for a whole host of diseases that could be prevented with normal weight.

"We are not asking for government regulation, we are asking for companies to do the right thing," said Margaret Wootan, nutrition policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "It's hard enough for parents these days to feed their kids healthfully, they don't need a billion dollars in marketing and advertising making our job harder."

Wootan says targeting junk-food ads is crucial to win the fight against childhood obesity.

"Big companies like McDonald's, Burger King, Kraft, General Mills, they have done a good job to start, but it's time to take it to the next level," said Wootan. "Watching Nickelodeon with my daughter, walking the aisles in the supermarket, I still see way too much junk-food marketing."

Advertisements for sugary cereals, drinks and imitation fruit snacks have a huge influence over kids.

One study found kids see from 12 to 21 food ads every day, and 98 percent of those ads are for foods high in fat and sugar.

Some experts estimate if those ads were banned, there'd be about a 15-percent cut in childhood obesity rates.

Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, suggests taxing sugary beverages at a penny per ounce. While some studies suggest taxing won't work, Brownell offers his take.

"And the beauty of a tax is that it is one way to affect the obesity issue that doesn't cost anything, in fact it raises money," said Brownell. "So if some of the revenue is generated from the tax went into prevention programs or public-health nutrition programs then you get a double benefit from it."

Food is an issue, but so is movement. Currently 92 percent of elementary schools don't have physical education classes. Yet on average these kids spend five hours a day on TV, video games and computers.

University of California-Davis pediatrician Dr. Dennis Styne looks first and foremost to home life.

"Parents have to understand that they are in charge, they are the parents, children cannot regulate themselves," said Styne. "Some of us give activity prescription, saying: 'You are to exercise with your child, 20 minutes a day, five days a week.'"

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