"The food and physical activity environments we offer our children is a recipe for obesity, and much human suffering will be the result," said Kelly Brownell, author of the book to be published in September by McGraw Hill, chair of Yale's Department of Psychology and director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders.
In his book, Brownell highlights the many factors leading to obesity, among them: super-sized portions in restaurants, convenience stores and other venues; sedentary behavior stemming from prolonged use of computers, video games and television; communities designed to make it difficult to bike or walk to schools and work; product placement of foods in television and movies; partnering of children's media giants with the food industry; schools "addicted" to money from soft drink and snack food companies, and relentless and seductive advertising aimed at children.
The nation, Brownell said, first must acknowledge the serious problems caused by poor diet and resist the argument that people are doing this to themselves. "Personal responsibility is important, but sometimes our personal resources are overwhelmed by a toxic environment and society steps in to protect people, especially children," he said. "We have a long history as a nation of taking steps like requiring seat belts, keeping tobacco companies from our children, and more."
Among his recommendations are to prohibit food advertising aimed at children or at least mandate equal time for the promotion of healthy eating and activity; rid schools of soft drinks, snack foods and fast food; use school cafeterias as learning laboratories; alter national programs such as Food Stamps, Head Start and the National School Lunch Program to help in the fight against obesity and poor diet, and work with celebrities and the major children's media companies like Nickelodeon and Disney to promote healthy foods.
And, if needed, Brownell said a tax on unhealthy foods should be considered. He said the tax could be used to subsidize the sale of healthy foods; create an advertising fund to develop mass media promotions for healthy eating, and offset the lost revenue suffered by schools that stop selling soft drinks and snack food.