Gina Kolata has written a piece for The New York Times that poses the question: should efforts to reduce smoking in teenagers take a back seat to tackling the childhood obesity epidemic? Kolata notes that major donors like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have begun to curtail funding to non-smoking efforts, while initatives like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign are on the rise.
James S. Marks, a vice president at Robert Wood Johnson, says the foundation is “spending less on anti-smoking efforts but ha(s) not abandoned them.” The foundation’s role, he said, “is to get efforts started — as it did with smoking prevention.” The foundation has now begun to fund the fight against childhood obesity.
The CDC report that Kolata references in the piece doesn’t really show (as Kolata suggests) that progress against teenage smoking has stalled. Current frequent cigarette use by high schoolers declined from 9.7% in 2003 to 7.3% in 2009.
But as we’ve seen evidenced with the smoking toddler, cigarettes and childhood obesity may go hand and hand. Smoking cigarettes leads to respiratory conditions that make physical activity difficult.
Jeffrey Friedman, an obesity researcher at Rockefeller University, says money should still be earmarked to curb teenage smoking, because ”a person who stops will almost immediately substantially reduce the risk for heart disease” and their “risk for lung cancer will be nearly frozen at whatever it was at the time smoking stopped.” He says when it comes to obesity, “there are many assumptions about what will work — more healthful foods in schools, a soda tax, getting children to be more active. Yet no interventions, when tested in large studies, have caused a big difference in children’s or teenagers’ weights.”
One thing is clear from the CDC report, though. They say eliminating the marketing of cigarettes to young people is “an important component of a comprehensive national tobacco prevention and control strategy that will complement and strengthen the impact of traditional, evidence-based interventions.” Which means the USDA should hurry up and sign that ban against marketing fake foods to kids, because it may go a long way toward ending childhood obesity.