Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama's announcement of 70 recommendations to help reverse America's obesity epidemic was hailed as a comprehensive, landmark approach by health care professionals, industry and academics. And, of course, there were also a select few naysayers to declare the Administration the "food police."
The term implies that enforcement is needed, or that plans are being driven against the will of the people. Nothing could be further from the truth. These false assumptions were further proven wrong yesterday as a group of food and beverage producers voluntarily pledged to reduce 1.5 trillion calories from their products by the end of 2015. The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation (HWCF) -- representing more than 80 independent businesses, including food and beverage manufacturers-- declared that private industry will partner with the First Lady's Let's Move Campaign and answer the call to help reduce our nation's obesity epidemic.
Not policed, but rather proactive, private industry is a key partner and now a willing ally in getting America back on track to a healthy weight. Their announcement outlined plans for American businesses to grow and introduce lower-calorie options; change current product recipes to lower calorie content; and reduce portion sizes of existing single-serve products. These steps take us a significant step in the right direction, and they set a bar for other business and industry to follow.
The First Lady and the private sector are fighting obesity not because they have to. They're fighting because --as a nation-- we literally cannot afford not to. Right now, two-thirds of adults and nearly one in three children struggle with overweight and obesity. As a result, taxpayers, governments and businesses spend billions on obesity-related conditions, and roughly 39 million work days are lost to obesity-related illnesses each year. In fact, in 2005, the cost to employers was $142 billion, including health expenses and diminished productivity.
This trend is unsustainable, and no sector of the American economy is immune. By implementing measures that give consumers the tools they need to make healthy decisions, we stand a chance at putting our energy balance back in check. This step should be a signal to more industry leaders to step up, lead the way and join this effort to reduce obesity in this generation.