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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The USDA new dietary guidelines for children released yesterday, recommending four cups of fruit and vegetables every day with a focus on eating more fruits, were greeted with praise from some corners of the food industry, and pans by at least one consumer advocacy organization.
Kathy Means, v.p. of government relations for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association, said the trade association "applauds and supports this effort, and we're pleased that the government has taken this significant step to reach out to kids during a time when childhood obesity is a critically important issue."
In addition to fruits and vegetables being prominently featured in the MyPyramid food guidance system, the USDA fruit and vegetable snack program has shown that kids will eat fruits and vegetables if they're available in schools, said Means. "Since fresh produce is a power player in the fight against obesity, any efforts to positively influence change and increase produce consumption for the next generation are welcomed by our industry."
Robert Earl, senior director of nutrition policy for the Washington, D.C.-based Food Products Association (FPA), also applauded the new MyPyramid for Kids effort, noting that it will further advance education, nutritional and physical activity awareness among children, who will in turn be better motivated to put sound dietary messages into daily practice. "MyPyramid for Kids and USDA's interactive Web site will help children learn about how to make food choices, as well as emphasizing the importance of physical activity and that, most of all, both eating and physical activity should be fun," Earl said.
"One of the tools that can help both children and adults is the nutrition label found on food packaging. Children, as well as adults, need to learn how to use nutrition labels to help them choose foods appropriate for their dietary needs," he added.
Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation, said while educational programs such as MyPyramid for Kids are important, education must be joined with action if true change will be realized.
"With most children eating less than half the amount of fruits and vegetables recommended for a healthy diet, the release of MyPyramid for Kids is a positive step toward promoting children's health and fighting childhood obesity. But for this program to succeed, it must now be met with strong action by government and education leaders to increase funding for effective health and physical education campaigns, step up efforts to increase availability of fruits and vegetables in schools and limit the barrage of junk food advertising targeting children," said Pivonka.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest, on the other hand, said the kids' version of the food pyramid is as ineffective as the adult version, because of what it omits. "My Pyramid for Kids doesn't dare to discourage children from consuming so much soda, fast food, candy, and other junk foods," said the watchdog organization's executive director, Michael F. Jacobson.
"Even if MyPyramid for Kids were terrific, there's no strategy to put materials in every classroom in America--they're actually only making them available upon request," Jacobsen added. "It's as if they've asked Mike Brown to design a response to the obesity epidemic," he quipped, referring to the former director of FEMA, who resigned in the wake of public dissatisfaction over the government's response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina.
CSPI said that if the administration wanted to reduce the toll of diet-related disease, it could start by aggressively promoting increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; removing soda and junk foods from schools; getting junk-food ads off children's television; and supporting legislation that would put calorie counts on fast-food menu boards. And instead of relying solely on the Internet, the government should take to the airwaves, the consumer group said.
"When McDonald's wants to reach kids, it turns to television advertising first and foremost," said Jacobson. "If government is to improve kids' eating habits it should invest hundreds of millions of dollars on television advertising promoting healthy diets. If such a campaign made even a dent in obesity or diet-related disease, it would be a windfall for American taxpayers."