WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama signed a memorandum on Feb. 9 that establishes a new federal taskforce charged with turning an ambitious national campaign unveiled by First Lady Michelle Obama into action. The vending, foodservice and beverage industries say they are on board and taking immediate action to support the initiative.
The taskforce -- which consists of the secretaries of Interior, Agriculture and Health and Human Services -- will reportedly have 90 days to devise a strategy for "optimal coordination" between the federal government and both the private and nonprofit sectors. Its work will complement Let's Move, an aggressive effort to combat childhood obesity that will be led by Mrs. Obama and backed by as much as $1 billion a year in federal funds for 10 years.
The first lady said the program will unite community leaders, teachers, doctors, nurses and parents and focus on what families, communities and the public and private sectors can do to help fight childhood obesity. She designated four key pillars: getting parents more informed about nutrition and exercise; improving the quality of food in schools; making healthy foods more affordable and accessible for families; and focusing more on physical education.
Obama's initiative challenges the Food and Drug Administration to work with food and beverage producers, who have announced their support of her proposals, to improve package labeling so ingredient statements would be more prominent and easier to understand.
The campaign also targets improving the nutrition of school meals. Sodexo, Chartwells School Dining Services and Aramark, among other companies that supply food to schools, have agreed to reduce salt and fat content, and offer more whole grains and fresh fruits. The foodservice providers also agreed to increase nutrition education efforts aimed at students and parents.
The National Automatic Merchandising Association said the vending industry applauds the Obama Administration's anti-obesity efforts and plans to support them, emphasizing that its Balanced for Life program launched in 2004 helps teach students about the elements of a balanced diet and the importance of physical activity.
"Our programs have been widely supported by schools, parents and even in the government as a valuable tool to provide healthy food to our vending customers," NAMA said. "We particularly appreciate Mrs. Obama's focus on the need for increased physical activities. Reversing rising obesity rates requires better education about nutrition, making wise food choices, increasing physical activity and involved parenting."
The vending association added that it plans to work with Congress and federal agencies as they consider recently announced calorie-disclosure legislation to ensure vending operators do not lose jobs by requesting flexibility, legal protection for minor and inadvertent mistakes in labeling and sufficient time for implementation.
"Vending is an industry of small, often family-owned businesses and we care about our customers," NAMA added. "So we are concerned about costs of new regulations and the economic impact to our small businesses. We want to partner with Mrs. Obama so that our small businesses don't lose jobs."
Agriculture Secretary Seeks More Stringent School Nutrition Guidelines
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration will ask Congress to improve childhood nutrition by eliminating sugary snacks and drinks from vending machines and cafeterias, among other measures, according to Associated Press reports.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the administration will seek changes when Congress this year reauthorizes the Childhood Nutrition Act, originally signed into law in 1966 by Lyndon Johnson. Its recommendations include a ban on cookies, cakes, pastries and salty food from school vending machines and cafeteria lines, and making more whole grains, fruits and vegetables available to students.
The administration also wants to enroll more kids in school lunch programs and boost the number of schools offering breakfast. It is also seeking to link local farmers with school cafeterias and improve parent and student education about nutrition.