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Clinton Takes on Obesity

Clinton Takes on Obesity


Former president Bill Clinton introduces plan to eliminate junk food from schools

Bill Clinton, at one time lampooned for his reputation as a fast food junkie and avowed McGormandizer, is turning over a healthier leaf in his role as philanthropist and civic leader. The former president now has his eyes on America's childhood obesity epidemic as part of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint effort by the Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association.

The Alliance struck a deal with five major snack food manufacturers -- Kraft Foods Inc., Mars Inc., Campbell Soup Co., Dannon, and PepsiCo Inc. -- to discourage schools from stocking foods that are high in calories, fat, salt, and sugar. As part of the deal, the companies and schools will be encouraged to provide students with healthier snack foods that meet American Heart Association guidelines. These guidelines set limits on sodium content, sugar content, the percentage of calories from fat, and the percentage of calories from saturated fat.

Although the snack food plan is entirely voluntary, Clinton hopes that both schools and the companies will recognize this as a first step toward dealing with obesity. The plan is set to begin in 250 schools this year with hopes of expanding to 3,000 schools by 2008 and 7,100 schools by 2010.

This snack food plan joins an initiative spearheaded by the Alliance from earlier that essentially nixed soda from the curriculum at elementary and middle schools.

Everyone's a Food Critic

In an Associated Press report, Janey Thorton, president of the School Nutrition Association, noted that while the plan is commendable it should not serve as a substitute for federal legislation. Indeed, as the Center for Science in Public Interest pointed out, the agreement would lack weight if schools and companies didn't abide by the voluntary standards.

The most vocal critics, however, could be the children themselves. With their usual fix of soda and potato chips replaced by bottled water, granola bars, and yogurt, the junk food black market of the schoolyard will likely see more traffic. Of course, it takes quite a few granola bars to equal a Choco Taco.

Never Mind the Healthy Bollocks

A similar school lunch program has been met with mixed feelings in Britain. Spearheaded by celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, the Feed Me Better Campaign ensured that school students were fed two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables each day. His plan received the backing of Prime Minister Tony Blair, who committed £280 million to the program which was instituted just this year.

Some school children have dubbed Oliver's plan rubbish. In a New York Times article, a child noted that he's taken to buying junk food outside school grounds such as a chip butty: a fries-and-butter sandwich covered in vinegar. This has probably been a boon for the pub fry-up and Scottish deep-fried pizza market.

At Rawmarsh School in South Yorkshire, children have been banned from going home from school for lunch. Students are packed into the cafeteria, where some find the food unappetizing and, according to an account in the previously mentioned New York Times report, the cooks were so overworked that some of the baked potatoes were served half-cooked.

Yet it isn't just the kids who were upset. The parents are, too.

There have been several instances in which parents have taken to passing fast food through the campus gates to students, sometimes angrily demanding that their children should be able to eat what they want.

The First of Many Problems

Given the gradual integration and voluntary nature of Clinton's plan, a situation like the junk food anarchy in the UK is not likely to happen across the pond. There have, however, been other more aggressive food initiatives put on the table, one of which seeks to ban trans fats from New York City restaurants.

Then again, regulating foods is just one facet of the obesity problem, one that doesn't take into account the amount of food consumption, the amount of exercise or lack thereof, and genetic pre-dispositions and hormonal factors that contribute to obesity in America.

Whether folly or not, eventually we'll learn if these food programs are a first step in the right direction to beating the obesity epidemic: a small step for man against the expanding waistband of mankind.

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