From the London Olympics to Seattle Schools: Carrying a Torch for Our Kids’ Health

Jul 6, 2012 by

From the London Olympics to Seattle Schools: Carrying a Torch for Our Kids’ Health

Lately, we’ve been thinking a lot about what makes fighting the obesity epidemic so difficult. In Washington State, 11 percent of children are obese and 15 percent are overweight. The statistics are the easy part, what’s not easy is the solution. And that’s because there is no one solution – take it from us.

The Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition works with 46 different partners throughout the State of Washington – from hospitals, to health departments, to research and advocacy groups. All of our partners play a part in addressing this crisis; combined, they have a 360 degree perspective of the root problems, as well as the various solutions being applied on the individual and population-levels. Many of these solutions are already, or are slated to make an impact, but none are happening with enough speed and on a broad enough scale to make a significant dent in the problem.

There’s no question about it – we need a real shift in our culture and we need it now. We need to hit a tipping point.

Legislation is one way to affect a lot of people quickly (that is another blog post for another time – see our web site for ways that we are working to affect policy). Another needed approach is for the institutions, organizations, governments and businesses that make up our immediate world to start taking a hard look at what they’re doing within their own four walls to address the obesity problem (or not). That can mean doing their part to make healthy choices possible and easier for visitors, employees or patrons.

In King County, WA, for example, organizations are beginning to adopt the Healthy King County Vending Guidelines to ensure that their vending includes healthy options. Other helpful guidelines being used nationally include the American Heart Association guidelines for workplaces. We applaud this work and plan to provide future updates of how certain leaders in several sectors are faring around the State.

But what happens in times of slim budgets and tightening wallets when the more enticing and lucrative choice appears to be partnering with the very industries contributing to the obesity epidemic, like soda companies or fast food chains. Often times these companies will embark on missions of seemingly goodwill (and even “living well” promotions) to support a school, park, or even the Olympics. They will give money in exchange for their brand to be plastered all over the environment that they’re sponsoring.

“Sounds fair to me”, you might say. And perhaps in other time it would be. But right now we are in a time of crisis. A time in which our children may have a shorter lifespan than their elders. A time in which our kids are faced with advertisements day in and day out, convincing them to become lifetime, and frequent consumers of the very products that will lead them to an end game of diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. When you’re an institution that serves children and families, pushing a brand that is synonymous with regular overconsumption of sugar just doesn’t seem appropriate in a time like the time we’re in right now.

That brings us to the Olympics in London. There aren’t many people who aren’t excited for it – it’s a rare and captivating event that brings the world together. And now, it looks like the hosts of the Olympics are making an effort to take a stand and walk their talk. According to the AP:

Junk food giants McDonald’s and Coca-Cola could find themselves left at the starting blocks after the London Assembly voted to call for a ban on Olympic sponsors that produce high calorie food and beverages.

Just over a month before London hosts the 2012 Olympics, the powerful elected body passed a motion urging the International Olympic Committee to adopt strict sponsorship criteria in a bid to outlaw advertising of products linked to child obesity.

The political statement comes on the back of vociferous protests from health organizations that the celebration of athletic excellence is not the place to be tempting youngsters with Big Macs.

“London won the right to host the 2012 Games with the promise to deliver a legacy of more active, healthier children across the world,” the Green Party’s Jenny Jones, who proposed the motion, told the assembly. ”Yet the same International Olympic Committee that awarded the games to London persists in maintaining sponsorship deals with the purveyors of high calorie junk that contributes to the threat of an obesity epidemic.”

It’s unclear as to whether the lure of dollars and business as usual will win out, but the sentiment of the effort made by the London Assembly hit us close to home a couple of weeks ago, when the Seattle School Board voted to keep unhealthy advertising of junk food and beverages out of its school yards (see our coverage here). The victory put a skip in our steps and hopefully a lot of relief in the hearts and minds of parents. We hope to see more courage of this kind and responsible action elsewhere. But when we see the latest money contest to hit our parks – a place to be active and healthy in our communities – is driven by Coca-Cola, we’re reminded that these contradictions will be acceptable for as long we make them that way.

Can we get a critical mass of institutions to step out and say enough is enough, and that yes – if we think smarter, we can find a better way to help us through these financially burdened times? We remain healthily optimistic.

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