News from the Secretary

News from the Secretary by Larry Gabriel S.D. Secretary of Agriculture Why is little Johnnie so fat?

Remember when all America was asking "Why Johnnie can't read?" Now, a similar verbal storm is raging about why little Johnnie is not so little any more.

Most of the commodity groups joined the debate this month after Peter Jennings claimed that federal government farm subsidies contribute to obesity.�

If you search the Internet on this issue, you will find story after story blasting this television program with words like "irresponsible," "bubble-headed," "junk science." I'll try to steer clear of that, and get to what is really going on. Besides it does not surprise me to hear a newsman from Ontario bashing corn subsidies.�

The theory that increasing consumption of sweeteners (sugar or fructose) and vegetable oils is causing obesity is part of a 2003 report from World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) on diet and chronic health problems.

Obesity has reached an "epidemic" level globally because of changing diets, which include a higher proportion of saturated fats and sugars, according to the report.�Others dispute that.

The debate will go on for years, but the agenda is to get obesity designated as an official disease, causing insurance to pay for it, and thereby generating support for new government regulations designed to prevent or reduce obesity, through subsidy changes, and restrictions on ingredients and advertising.

The WHO global strategy is to reduce consumption of foods that are "energy-dense" but "nutrient-poor" by four "areas for action":� 1) promoting "healthier" foods by reducing consumption of hydrogenated oils, sugar and salt; 2) using taxes and subsidies to increase prices of bad foods and cheapen good foods; 3) changing food programs to emphasize local production; 4) changing agricultural policies to favor "healthy nutrition."

The TV show did a lousy job mostly because it left out half the truth. WHO's conclusion about "energy-dense" foods and obesity apply mostly to developing nations (China). The report says decreased physical activity combined with "energy-dense" foods may be the culprit.� But, heredity may be more significant than either of those.

Even if increased consumption of high energy foods has some connection to obesity, there is no single primary cause of obesity in American children. If there were, it might be electronic.

The proposal to restrict advertising of snack foods and drinks because children consume too much of them is silly.� That is what parents are for.�

If we are going to throw the First Amendment out the window, we should heed that part of the report, which says one of the three "critical aspects" of chronic disease in adolescents is "physical inactivity because of television viewing."

I might vote for a legal limit on TV, video and game time for kids. I wonder if P.J. would do a special on that idea.

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