June 16, 2012

Childhood obesity — Nutritional guidelines make sense | Bluefield Daily Telegraph

With childhood obesity rates in the nation at a record high, a West Virginia lawmaker is asking Congress to develop, implement and promote new national dietary guidelines for pregnant women and children up to age 2.

No such standards currently exist. The amendment was jointly introduced last week by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. It requires the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop and implement the new national dietary guidelines.

Childhood obesity is certainly a problem in West Virginia. In fact, the Mountain State currently ranks 10th in the nation for the number of children who are obese.

According to the Trust for America’s Health, the average obesity rate in West Virginia for adults from 2008 to 2010 was 32.2 percent, which is the third highest in the nation. During that same time, the rate of diabetes in West Virginia was 12 percent, the second highest in the nation. In 2007, the obesity rate among children was 18.9 percent, or the 10th highest in the nation.

Every five years, the USDA and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services jointly publishes the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Manchin said the guidelines provide evidence-based nutrition information intended to promote good health and reduce the risk of obesity and chronic diseases for Americans ages 2 and older. The guidelines serve as the basis for federal nutrition policy, education, outreach, and food assistance programs.

“The fact is that we need to give people better tools to keep their kids healthy — and right now, some parents mean well but don’t have the information they need to make the right decisions,” Manchin said last week. “The food that our children eat affects how they learn, which will affect how they can contribute to our society. If we want to stay competitive, we have to keep ourselves healthy and strong.”

Although children younger than 2 years of age have unique nutritional needs, there are currently no science-based, government-established dietary guidelines for children up to 2 years of age. Research shows that the foods and beverages offered to infants help set the foundations of their eating patterns later in life, and exposing children to healthy foods at an early age will increase their preference for those foods down the road.

The bipartisan amendment introduced by Manchin and Ayotte makes sense.

We see no harm in including dietary guidelines for children ages 0-2 in future updates of the Dietary Guidelines for America. Doing so — as correctly argued by Manchin— will ensure that parents have specific nutrition recommendations for their children and are able to actively participate in obesity prevention efforts.

Anything we can do to improve the health and well-being of our children should be welcomed and strongly encouraged.