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Congress Urged to 'Act Boldly' to Address Childhood Obesity

WASHINGTON - A comprehensive national response is needed to address childhood obesity in the United States, members of Congress were told on Tuesday during a hearing by the Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) Committee.

Corporations can help with programs aimed at educating kids about good nutrition and exercise, experts and politicians said.

"Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions," said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican and doctor who also chairs the HELP committee.

More than 9 million U.S. children are obese, meaning their health is at serious risk. Another 15 percent of all children are overweight.

"This generation of kids growing up today could be the first to have a shorter lifespan than their parents," Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin told the committee hearing.

"Half-measures won't work. It has to be a comprehensive national response. It is a clarion call to Congress for us to act boldly."

In response to the hearing, the Grocery Manufacturers of America released a statement yesterday commending the actions of Sen. Frist and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

"Senators Frist and Wyden have demonstrated a unique leadership on the critical issue of preventing and reducing obesity, especially among children," said GMA s.v.p. of government affairs Mary Sophos. "We believe their legislative efforts to provide families, schools, and communities with the resources they need to combat obesity is the right approach."

In March 2004, GMA president and c.e.o. C. Manly Molpus testified before the Senate about the food and beverage industry's efforts to improve the nutritional profile of existing products and to provide new products that combine taste, convenience, and nutrition; to research nutrition labeling improvements; and to promote nutrition education and increase regular physical activity for all consumers.

In a related move, Kraft Foods, Inc. said yesterday it is launching improved nutrition labels that make it easier for consumers to choose the portion size of the foods they eat. Kraft said it believes it is the first major food manufacturer to adopt this labeling policy following a request made by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March.

The new labels, which will appear on Kraft's snack and beverage products that contain two to four servings, will provide nutrition information for the contents of the entire package. In addition, the total number of servings will be stated on the front of the package.

"With Kraft 'doing the math' for them, people can instantly see just what they'll be consuming if they choose to eat the entire contents of a package," said Lance Friedmann, Kraft's s.v.p., Global Health and Wellness, in a statement. "Just as consumers have asked, this puts the choice of portion size in their hands and gives them the information they need to make sure it's an informed choice."

The first Kraft product to carry the new label is Ritz Chips "Big Bag."

To learn how some leading food retailers are getting involved in helping to prevent childhood obesity, read Progressive Grocer's Oct. 1 cover story, "The trouble with kids today." Click here for the online version:
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