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Is This the Solution to Childhood Obesity?

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It’s pretty clear that obesity is a problem in America. It has been for years and unless we do something drastic, it will continue to wreak havoc on our children. So the question is: What are we going to do about it?

Researchers have been examining this issue (thank goodness) and comparing several different options for a potential solution. Since it’s easier to come up with ideas than it is to put them into action, it’s important to look at whether or not an idea will work before putting resources into implementing it.

In a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, three different anti-obesity options were put to the test: after-school activity programs, a ban on child-directed food advertising, and an obesity tax on soda.

All three of these potential solutions take a different approach to reaching the same goal: reducing obesity starting in childhood. Obesity that begins in childhood sets us up for problems as adults, not to mention the immediate health and social risks for kids. Putting a stop to the problem early on could make a drastic difference overall.

In order to compare the different programs, researchers put them through what’s called a micro-simulation, a fancy way of predicting what might happen in 20 years if these programs were used. They looked at the impact each plan would have on diet, physical activity, and BMI. The good news? They all worked to reduce obesity. The surprising news is which one worked the best: the obesity tax on soda.

They specifically looked at a plan that would put a one cent per ounce tax on soda. That means 12 cents on a can, 20 cents on an individual bottle, and about 68 cents on a 2-liter bottle of soda. Not exactly cheap. The soda tax appears to be the best solution because it not only helped reduce obesity, but it also created extra cash flow, which could then be implemented to run other anti-obesity programs. Theoretically, the funds raised from the tax could pay for an after-school physical activity program (although I can’t imagine that being a likely scenario).

What’s also interesting about the comparison of these three different obesity campaigns is that they impacted different age groups. The soda tax was the most effective with adolescents and young adults, reducing obesity 2.4% among 13- to 28-year-olds. The after-school physical activity program made the most impact on younger kids, reducing obesity 1.8% in kids ages 6 to 12. Surprisingly enough, the ban on food-related television advertising only reduced obesity 0.9%. It’s unfortunate that advertising can have such an effect on our health to begin with, but it’s nice to know it’s not as much as you might have thought. Maybe (in a dream world perhaps) that means kids are watching less TV and are therefore less impacted.

While the tax (or any of these other programs) aren’t likely to become a standard reality any time soon, it’s nice to see that small changes (yet again) really can make a difference. That means not consuming soda ourselves and not giving it to our kids. It means staying active – even if only a little bit extra – and encouraging our kids to do the same. And it means turning the TV off can make a difference, even if only a little. (And hey, turning off the TV gives you more time to go be active, right?) It means being a good role model and instilling healthy habits in our kids so they don’t have to fight these problems as they become adults.

What do you think of a soda tax? Would it make you stop buying soda?

Photo credit: Thinkstock

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