The holidays are over. January has practically come and gone. And—if you’re like 88% of the world—your motivation to stick with your New Year’s resolution is long gone, too. According to USA.gov, the majority of resolutions relate to weight loss, eating right, or exercising more, but most of us can only stick to our lofty goals through January 10. With the start of February quickly approaching, I thought this would be the perfect time to remind, rejuvenate, and re-inspire our readership to pick those stubborn resolutions back up.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 133 million Americans—nearly one in two adults—had at least one chronic illness in 2005, fueling our nation’s need to successfully implement healthier habits and activities soon. These chronic illnesses, including diabetes, stroke, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer, are the most common and most expensive health issues this country faces. They are also PREVENTABLE with regular exercise and a healthy diet.
One of this country’s greatest threats is the obesity prevalence among children and adolescents, which has nearly tripled in the last 30 years. In November at the American Public Health Association’s (APHA) 140th annual meeting and expo in San Francisco, CA, I was able to attend an interesting session about food marketing to children and discovered some pretty alarming stats.
We’re Set Up to Lose—that is, Gain
Food companies spend more than a billion dollars every year on advertising their products to children, and there is a strong link between child ad exposure and obesity. A study from the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago found that 86% of ads seen by children in 2009 were for products high in saturated fat, sugar, or sodium.
Federal agencies are working to find a solution to this problem. For example, CDC works with school systems to combat obesity and improve physical activity among adolescents. Danya supports this work and designed CDC’s School Health Guidelines to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity; these guidelines provide schools with strategies for developing and implementing healthy eating and physical activity policies to improve student health and lower their risk of obesity and related chronic diseases.
The Interagency Working Group of Food Marketed to Children (IWG) has also proposed science-based, voluntary nutrition guidelines to guide food and beverage companies that market to children. Unfortunately, some food/beverage and advertising companies are spending millions of dollars lobbying Congress to ensure these guidelines aren’t finalized.
Food and beverage companies claim they are already making strides to promote healthier food to children. The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), launched in 2006 and made up of 17 leading food and beverage companies, has a goal of shifting the mix of advertising directed at children to healthier products. CFBAI participants must devote 100% of their child-directed advertising to better-for-you foods, limit the use of licensed characters and celebrities to promote food, and not advertise their branded foods to children in elementary schools. Unfortunately, public health researchers have found minimal improvements in the amount and nutritional quality of food products marketed to children since the launch of CFBAI. In December 2013, new CFBAI-developed nutrition criteria will go into effect and guide participants’ child-directed food advertising.
Small Steps for a Big Win
We’ll see how it all plays out, but in the meantime, I encourage parents and kids alike to take advantage of the start of a new month and put those resolutions back into action. It’s difficult, according to “The Power of Habit” author Charles Duhigg, to rewire your entire brain and body overnight, so the smartest way to attack your weight loss, diet, or exercise goals is with “small wins.” Some simple small steps to consider include:
- Feed your family nutrient-rich, “real foods” when possible, like apples with almond butter, vegetables, and low-fat string cheese.
- Only shop the produce-laden perimeter of the grocery store, steer clear of the middle aisles with more manufactured foods; and avoid anything with ingredients you can’t pronounce.
- Show your children the joy of cooking and eating healthy foods at home by creating a meal together.
- Take a walk outside with the family after dinner instead of watching television.
You have the power to teach yourself and your family habits that they will practice for a lifetime of wellness—well past the January 10 resolution cliff.