Sunday, October 08, 2006

Bill Clinton, AHA Should Stop Their Childhood Obesity Masquerade

Bill Clinton is the consummate politician taking credit for simply trying

Like I have said many times before, I really don't like talking about politics at my health and weight loss blog. Most of the issues that are dealt with in this forum are political only in the diet and nutrition world, but not generally in the realm of governmental politics.

But sometimes these two worlds inevitably collide and that's exactly what this Washington Post story about a new deal to limit junk foods sold in school vending machines does with a vengeance.

It seems five of the top junk food vending machine companies--PepsiCo, Mars Inc., Kraft Foods Inc., Campbell Soup Co. and Dannon Co.--have vowed to take their high-carb, high-fat products out of the schools in favor of "healthier products" (we'll get into what that means in a moment).

The voluntary agreement was made possible by the ever-present elder statesman himself, former President Bill Clinton, along with the American Heart Association (AHA). They wanted to help make the nutritional choices for kids better while they are in school because many blame these foods on the rise in childhood obesity rates (I do not blame the junk food companies, but rather the parents for making poor nutritional choices and for not educating their own children to discern between what is good for them and what is not).

Isn't this agreement quite an ironic twist considering the man involved? Here we have the former leader of the free world who was infamous for eating cheeseburgers and French fries while he was President telling junk food manufacturers what they can and cannot sell in schools to children. Furthermore, he will now go around taking credit for bringing an end to childhood obesity in America because he cared enough to "work hard to TRY" to do something about it. What a freakin' joke!

This is nothing more than political posturing by Clinton to shift attention away from his little temper tantrum with Chris Wallace a couple of weeks ago. The negative publicity that he received from that infamous fiasco undoubtedly led him to go into damage control mode, so a trumped-up positive story like this one where he is seen as helping the children is just what the doctor ordered.


What is going to happen as a result of this need I remind you VOLUNTARY agreement Clinton helped bring about? It's VOLUNTARY which means any of the parties involved can most certainly back out at any time and Clinton still can say, "Well, at least I TRIED to tell them this would be good for the American children, but they wouldn't listen to me." Either way, he comes away looking spic-n-span squeaky clean in all of this even if NOTHING changes at all. That's not leadership, that's politics as usual!

Unfortunately, that's politics for you. It's all about who can take credit for non-action that looks like action today. But if Clinton or any other politician is sincerely interested in helping protect kids from the junk food that entices them, then why not get Congress to pass a law to make it mandatory to ban these from schools, hmmm? If they really want these junk foods out of schools, then make it a requirement with a law. That would certainly add more teeth to the argument that you care about improving the health of children if you think the presence of junk food is the culprit.

Gary Ruskin from the non-profit childhood obesity education group Commercial Alert had a rather terse response for Clinton questioning the "healthy alternatives" that will be allegedly offered as well as what's in this deal for the former president.

"Who is Bill Clinton kidding? Baked potato chips and sweetened bars are not substitutes for apples and carrots, beans and greens," Ruskin exclaimed. "Has the Clinton Foundation received any contributions from any of the companies that are a party to this agreement? How about the American Heart Association?"

You can't blame people like Ruskin for having questions like this based on Clinton's past behavior. But it does make you wonder if anything really will change or if this little media fanfare around what Clinton TRIED to do is all that will come of this. Awww, wasn't he so great for trying to help the fat little kiddies get healthy? Awww, he just cares so much for the little ones. Can I BARF now?! It's sentiments like this that make some want to throw more money at childhood obesity, but that is clearly not the answer.

This isn't the first time Clinton and the AHA have come together in a similar arrangement regarding junk food in schools. Earlier this year, they got Coca-Cola Co., Pepsi and Cadbury Schweppes PLC to stop selling non-diet soft drinks in schools since so many kids were chug-a-lugging on sugary sodas during the daytime. Now they will be guzzling sugary pseudo-fruit juices and energy drinks instead. Like I said, where are the MEANINGFUL changes? Hello?

I remember those snack food machines and the vendors during lunch when I was in high school in the late 1980s and never gave a seond thought about the nutritional value of what I was eating. If it tasted good and I wanted it, then I bought it. Of course, that may explain how I got to be so fat, too. :)

While I like the idea of giving kids a choice of better food options while at school, this agreement does NOT stop kids from going by their local corner convenience store on the way to or on the way home from school. It's like banning the sale of drugs on school grounds. That's all well and good until the students step off of school property and on the streets. At that point, all bets are off and the net result is the same as it was before.

An agreement like this one from Clinton and the AHA is like having a nonsmoking section in a restaurant that allows smokers to puff away without the use of a smoke vent. You can ban smoking all you want in the nonsmoking section, but you and I both know that doesn't keep the smoke from traveling into that section, thus rendering the distinction between the two sections completely irrelevant. The same goes for what Clinton and the AHA have brokered. This deal won't stop childhood obesity. Not by a long shot!

Okay, let's just pretend for a moment that these changes WILL make a difference. What are they asking these companies to alter about their products to make them "healthier?" Here are the new criteria for allowable foods sold at schools under the agreement:

1. Calories from fat limited to 35 percent
2. Calories from saturated fat limited to 10 percent
3. Sugar by weight is limited to 10 percent
4. Sodium is limited to 480mg, except for soup

Again we see the continuing ramifications of how scared people are of fat and even saturated fat. While it is noble they are limiting sugar to 10 percent by weight, that's still not doing anything about the excessive carbohydrates that many of these products contain which then turn into sugar when it is absorbed by the body. Are we so ignorant as a society that we think sugar is the only thing that makes your blood sugar rise? Finally, salt is a non-issue except for those who are salt-sensitive.

Even low-fat diet advocate Dr. Dean Ornish said in my recent interview with him that he doesn't like the influx of low-fat and fat-free snack food products because they are still not healthy choices for people to consume.

"People are going out and eating the Snackwell cookies and the fat-free desserts and cakes that may be very low in fat, but very high in sugar--I've never recommended that which is why I've been more explicit in clarifying that," Ornish said during the interview.

Despite all of this, data will begin being collected by the AHA and the Clinton Foundation to measure the impact of these changes ever other year over the next four years. Again, any changes will be minimal at best until we get a better handle on what is causing obesity--namely the excessive consumption of carbohydrates, including those found in low-fat products like baked potato chips, pretzels, 10% fruit juices, and so much more. Selling these as "healthy" foods is a farce!

Now the junk food companies involved in this agreement are going to begin "taking steps to make snacks more nutritious."

Oh joy, what do we have to look forward to? Hmmm, how about low-fat, whole wheat Twinkies sweetened with aspartame and/or maltitol? Yummy. Or perhaps we'll see, as one of my readers shared with me, vendor sandwiches made with Wonder Bread, anti-bacterial-sprayed bologna slices, and eggless Miracle Whip? Oh, the kiddies will be clamoring for them!

Who are we kidding people? Kids won't go for this stuff unless they are educated better about why they shouldn't eat the junk food. Our education system is eager to tell children about sex and sharing with them information about that, but there's nary a mention of how fat, protein and carbohydrates work to fuel the body and make it work. Now THERE is something meaningful to start teaching kids in schools.

We're stuck in a nutritional abyss nowadays and there doesn't seem to be an easy way out of it. Childhood obesity can be prevented, but that won't happen until some major barriers are torn down for good--namely that eating fat is bad for you, eating excessive carbohydrates is good for you, and that there are no consequences to eating junk food. All of these so-called axioms in our society are WRONG as wrong can be. We must continue to strive to share with others the truth.

10-8-06 UPDATE: You really should check out some of the comments I'm getting to this post over at Many of them think my points are invalid. What say you?

10-8-06 UPDATE: The response to this post continues with the following e-mail I received about it today.

I go to your web site because I am very interested in keeping up my low-carb lifestyle. When I want GOP political BS I can go to FOX news. By the way, you lost 180 pounds and good for you but you did not cure cancer! Maybe you should lose another 180 pounds of ego and your self-importance.

OUCH! LOL! Sigh, I miss stirring up political debate like I did long before I ever thought about livin' la vida low-carb. But, alas, I don't do that on a regular basis anymore. As I said at the very beginning, I don't like to bring up politics in this forum unless it is pertinent to what I discuss here on a regular basis. Today, it was.

By the way, I have a parting question for this person who raked me over the coals--Did Bill Clinton cure cancer?

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Blogger Calianna said...

there's nary a mention of how fat, protein and carbohydrates work to fuel the body and make it work. Now THERE is something meaningful to start teaching kids in schools.

Ah, there's the problem though - our health educators (and health care providers, for that matter) don't seem to quite understand how all that stuff works to begin with, or they wouldn't be pushing a low-fat, extremely low saturated fat, carbohydrate laden diet.

10/08/2006 1:29 PM  
Blogger Gary said...

Couldn't agree with you more, Jimmy. Who was it who recently said (here, wasn't it? was it Ornish?) that changes would probably take place incrementally rather than all at once? If this is a step, I'm not so sure where those incremental changes will lead us.

I also agree with you that it begins with the parents educating their kids. Unfortunately, many parents don't have a clue. They've been brainwashed by commercials and decades of miseducation on nutrition.

10/08/2006 2:20 PM  
Blogger PJ at TDLC said...

I totally agree.

My stepmother, who is diabetic, is brainwashed by the MSM-etc. about food. She once told my (growing chubby) little girl, "Eat your french fries! It's a vegetable." (!) That is about the mentality popular nowdays! If it doesn't have fat, it must be good; if it's dominantly from a plant, it must be good. So that means meats and nut-butters would be bad (all that fat!) while corn pops cereal would be good -- especially if sweetened with anything but regular sugar. Grrr! My kids school lunches are stuff like tater tots, mac & cheese, canned fruit salad and milk. The schools are a diabetic breeding ground! Not to mention all the asthma-etc. resulting from the strong % of wheat and milk sensitive people in the population.

Well, I'm sure it keeps the medical industry the most powerful one in the country.

10/08/2006 2:46 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

As I'm always quick to point out, low-carb acceptance is FAR FAR away from being the norm.

I'll say one thing though, at least Clinton is doing something, as opposed to say Dubya who probably thinks booze and cocaine are 2 of the 4 basic food groups.

Oh, and Kraft (ie RJ Reynolds), Pepsi, Campbells Soup, and even Dannon (which is affiliated with Coca-Cola) all contribute heavily to Republicans, so you may want to take that into account when bashing Bill Clinton.

10/08/2006 9:49 PM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

I wasn't "bashing Bill Clinton," Rob, but rather pointing out how what he did in brokering this deal was nothing more than ceremonial politicking at its best. He knows this is unenforceable, but comes out smelling like a rose whether it succeeds or fails.

My issue less about the politics of it and more on what is actually going to be done to bring about REAL change in childhood and adult obesity. I've always made that clear in my blog posts.

10/08/2006 10:52 PM  
Blogger Jeff Hamlin said...

As much as I like your diet ideals, Rob, your comments about George Bush are asinine at best.

10/08/2006 11:19 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

"My issue less about the politics of it and more on what is actually going to be done to bring about REAL change in childhood and adult obesity. I've always made that clear in my blog posts."

You do realize that Tom Harkin D-IA has tried for years to get the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act through, but Republicans (and a handful of Democrats) and the junk food interests they represent squash it at every opportunity they can. It was because of pressure by state legislatures, who wanted to ban junk food on school campuses, and threats of issueing lawsuits against soda companies and their bottlers that the deal between the soda companies and Clinton came about. Junk food makers have a major financial stake in allowing their crap to be sold on school grounds.

Since 1990, the food and beverage industry has given $247 million to Republicans and $110 million to Democrats. The National Restaurant Association gives liberaly to the GOP (80+%). Pretty hard to get anything REAL done when the junk food makers have the GOP in their back pocket.

10/09/2006 1:16 AM  
Blogger Jimmy Moore said...

I don't doubt what you say is true, Rob, but again that's not the point. The junk food being in schools in and of itself is NOT the issue. The real issue is parental education about good nutrition to their kids.

If they aren't passing on the ability to discern what is healthy and what is not, then how will the kids know any better?

Of course, the argument is (and it is a valid one) that not even parents understand what healthy nutrition is all about, so they can't possibly teach it to their kids.

And therein is the source of our problem. It's not junk food that's making kids fat, but rather the lack of education and personal responsibility at the family level that is.

Something for you to chew on.

10/09/2006 8:33 AM  
Blogger ira said...

Let's not forget that Bill clinton did lose his weight on a low carb diet, or at least semi low carb.
I agree that he's taking credit for something inconsequential and for something he had little or nothing to do with, but admit it:
Almost any Republican politician would do exactly the same thing.
Democrats may have views you vehemently diasagree with, but as far as being cozy with big corporations?
Seems to me that the big companies have their hands in both pockets.

10/09/2006 4:52 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

In fact, the ratio is roughly 75% GOP and 25% Democrat accross the board, whether if it's sugar/grain producers, fast food producers, junk food producers, etc.

The GOP has controlled the purse strings of congress for 12 years. If anything, they are far more culpable than democrats in the matter. I wonder how much the child obesity rate has increased since the GOP put the "For Sale" sign on the capitol steps since 1994?

The other flip side to this, in line with the Berkowitz interview, is that parents are highly stressed, working longer hours for the same or less pay, commute hours have increased, job insecurity has increased. It's a fairly simplistic answer to say it's the parents fault. At some point the producers of this garbage food, like tobacco companies, have to be held accountable. Unfortunately, with the GOP controlling congress, that is a very major unreality.

10/09/2006 7:25 PM  
Blogger AnOldHouse said...

Jimmy Moore: Did Bill Clinton cure cancer?

No, he didn't.

But he TRIED hard to cure it, Jimmy, he really, really TRIED.


10/09/2006 11:24 PM  
Blogger LindaLCforLife said...

Aside from the political stuff (though I think Clinton was one of the best presidents we ever had, but no one is perfect); parents are ultimately responsible for what their kids eat from birth; but only up to a point. I was fortunate to be able to be home with mine until they got in school so most of the time had control over what they ate then, but even when you are encouraging good eating habits in the home, the older a child gets the more they are influenced by outside sources. When they get to be about 13 or so, they may take your advice about diet with contempt. By the time they're 16, you have little, if any, control anymore. I guess you could attempt to "make" a 16 year old eat only healthy foods, if you put them in chains. The point is, children are individuals and they may grow up to accept your eating habits, and I think most do, but not always. Parents do have the most influence but I really believe children learn more from watching what we do, rather than from listening to what we say. They might get away from healthy eating for awhile, but if they see our diet is keeping us slim and healthy I think they are more likely to adopt it long term.

One example in point: There has been a lot of controversy in our high school about getting rid of the pop machines and junk food. A lot of the teachers and some administrators are on low-carb and want the sugar and junk food out. One of my daughter's teachers went on low carb and lost a lot of weight. He kept the students informed on his progress with it, which I think was a great example for the kids. One boy in the class remarked "Yeh, my dad lost 80 pounds on Atkins. When I get old and fat, I'm going on that diet."

10/10/2006 10:33 AM  
Blogger Bonnie said...

Notice on the campaign trail that Clinton is getting fat again. So knowledge is not enough, access to healthy choices is paramount.

2/29/2008 9:14 PM  

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