IFT Comments to Task Force on Childhood Obesity

March 26, 2010

To the Members of the President’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity:

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) appreciates the opportunity to provide comments to the Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Founded in 1939, IFT is a not-forprofit scientific society with more than 18,000 members working in food science, food technology, and related professions. Members and staff of IFT work diligently to help realize IFT’s vision as a nonprofit of ensuring a safe and abundant food supply contributing to healthier people everywhere, and we recognize the critical value of raising public discourse on the food and health issues associated with childhood obesity. As part of its educational mission, IFT supports achieving the Task Force’s four objectives: 1) Ensuring access to healthy, affordable food; 2) increasing physical activity in schools and communities; 3) providing healthier food in schools; and, 4) empowering parents with information and tools to make good choices for themselves and their families.

IFT brings together scientists from academia, government and industry to engage in a robust dialogue on the science of food. The challenges of childhood obesity provide common ground for our members to support efforts that prevent and reduce this epidemic. Because IFT focuses on the entire food system, we have access to a wide variety of experts on nutrition and food science-related topics who would be instrumental in helping the First Lady and the Task Force on their childhood obesity initiatives. In that regard, IFT believes it is imperative to foster a public-private dialogue based on science to support the Task Force and educate the public.

As part of its educational role as a nonprofit, IFT has already formed invaluable partnerships with other health-focused organizations to create a multi-disciplinary dialogue on obesity prevention and share our commitment to health and wellness. Through its work with government, IFT has been actively involved on food, health and nutrition issues through the United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPyramid Alliance, and IFT is building on that partnership with the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion by jointly developing a communications strategy for the rollout of the 2010 Dietary Guidelines. This month, IFT once again convened its third annual Wellness Conference with an overarching goal to provide balanced scientific, technical, and business perspectives on creating healthful foods to meet growing consumer demand. This conference focuses in particular on presenting a balanced perspective on issues where the science is evolving. IFT’s Annual Meeting also has a track that focuses on food, health and nutrition, inviting scientific sessions in this area and IFT has a Nutrition Division, a community of members with interest in nutrition to help members stay abreast and connected on the latest nutrition-related topics.

Furthermore, IFT is a leading member of the Food and Nutrition Science Solutions partnership with the American Society for Nutrition (ASN) and the International Food Information Council (IFIC). This partnership was founded to raise awareness of the interface of food science and nutrition and to demonstrate the impact of food and nutrition sciences on improving public health. This group drafted and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition a perspectives paper titled “Can a Small Changes Approach Reverse the Obesity Epidemic?” that provides evidence of how small lifestyle changes such as increased physical activity can help to combat obesity. This paper resulted in a USDA Small Changes Summit where IFT and others were invited to address childhood obesity and other pertinent issues. An article on small changes also was published in the Journal of Food Science, one of IFT’s independent, peer-reviewed publications that feature the latest research on the science of food.

IFT is also widely recognized with international audiences through its participation as a nongovernmental organization in Codex Alimentarius discussions on topics related to nutrition, such as the World Health Organization’s Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity, and Health.

IFT has a history of educating parents, teachers and students on the science of food. IFT, the IFT Foundation and Discovery Education formed an invaluable partnership in 2006 to increase awareness of food science and technology. Together, the partnership developed two multimedia resource kits, The Science and Scientists behind the Food and Careers in Food Science that were sent to over 18,000 public high school science department chairs and counselors nationwide. IFT also hosts local high school students and teachers each year during our Annual Meeting and Food Expo and has a relationship with the Girl Scouts of the USA, addressing parents and teachers as part of their “Cookie College” and providing speakers for troops on health and wellness. IFT also has undertaken efforts to empower parents and others with education on how to eat healthier via science reports and online videos that focus on topics such as food labeling to help consumers make informed, healthful food choices.

In 2004, IFT convened world-renowned food, nutrition, and public health experts to identify key research areas to help solve the problem of obesity during an IFT Research Summit, “Solving the Obesity Conundrum – Is There a Food Solution?” An IFT science report (MacAulay, J and Newsome, R. June 2004. Solving the Obesity Conundrum. Food Tech. 58(6): 32-37. and online at ift.org) and a Congressional Briefing resulted from the Summit.

IFT Responses to Select Questions in USDA/HHS/DEA Federal Register Request for Information

We have drawn on IFT’s Obesity Research Summit findings and other IFT information to answer select questions from the Federal Register notice that are listed below. Question #2) For each of the four objectives, what are the most important actions that Federal, State, and local governments can take?

For each of the four objectives, public-private collaboration among academia, industry and government, as well as cross-agency coordination, to investigate preventive measures and other obesity-related research needs is necessary. The need to compile the results of current and future research related to obesity in one central location is necessary to coordinate ongoing or future efforts with research outcomes. This will ensure that all stakeholders can collaborate more effectively and can more easily identify areas in need of further research. Cross-agency coordination is needed to determine priority research areas that require further investigation in order to decide where to allocate the most resources.

Collaborations are also necessary to effectively formulate and deliver consumer education. Public-private collaborations for consumer education and social marketing also require cross-agency participation and coordination. Messages from collaborations will foster greater trust from the public and increase the chances that the message will be heard and have an impact. Collaboration allows resources from government, academia, nonprofit and other research organizations to be used most efficiently and allows for better management and coordination of those resources. Any public policy related to obesity should also have cross-agency participation and be based on strong science, and should have collaborative messages that help the public to understand new policies and how they benefit them.

Question #4) For each of the four objectives, what are the most important actions that private, nonprofit, and other nongovernmental actors can take?

As discussed above in response to Question #2, IFT believes that knowledge sharing among academic, industry and governmental audiences is paramount to ensure that the consuming public has access to safe, plentiful and healthy food and is an excellent way for private, nonprofit, and other nongovernmental organizations to be involved in this effort. In addition, this concerted effort should capitalize on the power of combined communications vehicles that these organizations can gather to educate families on food issues and general health and well-being. To that end, IFT, as a nonprofit, has contributed its expertise and energies to a number of actions already taken. This includes our broad, individual membership base, existing partnerships, and educational offerings such as reports and conferences.

For each of the four objectives, the most important role that private, nonprofit, and nongovernmental stakeholders can take is to join together and take action in educating the public on how to lead healthier lives. There are many examples of existing

collaborations, such as MyPyramid Alliance, Fuel up to Play 60, or Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, with goals similar to those of the President’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity. Fuel Up to Play 60 is a collaboration between the National Football League, USDA, the National Dairy Council, and local schools that uses positive role models in an effort to get children to take an initiative in leading healthier lives. Private partners may offer the appeal of positive role models and may often attract media. The popularity of television shows, computer games, music, social networking and other avenues to reach students cannot be overlooked when formulating an outreach plan, while collaboration with academia, government, and nonprofits can help to assure the science behind the popular media initiatives that parents can trust.

Question #10) What are the key unanswered research questions that need to be answered with regard to solving childhood obesity and how should the Federal Government, academia, and other research organizations target their scarce resources on these areas of research?

There are many research questions that if answered may be able to help us prevent childhood obesity. Long-term, as well as short-term research and varying research approaches are all necessary to tackle the significant questions obesity presents. Research would be enhanced with evidence-based approaches using human subjects.

More research on biomarkers is warranted, including the identification of reliable longterm behavioral and biological obesity risk indicators. Research is needed on ways to accurately assess food, nutrient and caloric intake by different population subgroups, as the validity of currents methods has been called into question. Technological advancements in diagnostics and genetic-based tools may help with this, such as personal measurement tools. Adequate monitoring tools are also needed to track compliance with prescribed lifestyle interventions.

Identification of effective interventions to enhance short- and long-term weight management should be made. Understanding what drives food-related behaviors is essential to the development of effective behavior modification strategies. Much is not understood about the influences of food composition, properties, cost, portion size, packaging, labeling, and availability on behavior. The impact of time allocation and constraints as related to food choices should also be explored. Research on effective consumer messaging, consumer interpretation of nutrition information, and areas related to obesity that invoke strong feelings or emotions in consumers will aid in the critical area of consumer education. There is also value in studying non-obese and nonoverweight populations to garner more knowledge about potential causes and drivers of obesity.

Many research needs related to physiology exist as well. The physiological effects of dieting and weight loss; the role of muscle tissue and fat in the control of food intake, energy expenditure, and body weight; the location of the insulin receptor/transducer signal; and foods or ingredients that stimulate the ileum, the final section of the small intestine, to absorb products of digestion all could be researched further. Research is needed on factors impacting satiety, and whether genetics, age, and psychology or physiology impact these factors. The role of various food characteristics (i.e., liquid vs. solid) on satiety is also not well understood. Determination of whether certain foods or food components act as appetite stimulants or activate key areas of the brain involved in energy regulation is also needed. Research on genetic, metabolic, and psychological factors that may impact obesity is needed, and nutrigenomics should also continue to be explored further. Specific genes, genotypes, and DNA sequence variants may all play a role in obesity and some individuals may have a genetic disposition for obesity. The interaction between environment and genes should also be researched.

Food formulations should also be looked at more closely. It is possible that weightcontrol interventions can continue to be achieved through food formulation, such as minimal changes in the energy density of foods. Progress has been made in reformulating many food products to be healthier already, but significant scientific and processing challenges remain. More understanding on whether any foods are habitforming and if all calories are equal is also needed.

Priority research areas must be determined from the many areas that require further investigation to determine where to allocate the most resources. Government, academia, and private or nonprofit research organization resources should be used collaboratively when possible to capitalize the return on investment.

Question #12) Specifically with regard to objective 1 (empowering parents): How can Federal, State, and local governments, the private sector, and community organizations best communicate information to help parents make healthy choices about food and physical activity?

Collaboration between all stakeholders is paramount to ensure that the consuming public has access to safe, plentiful and healthy food, and to create and implement effective education programs for parents. Parents should be made aware of and be involved in developing school policies and practices which impact weight management for their children, such as physical education and school lunch. Parents should also be involved in their communities to become as informed as possible and to ensure increased access to safe, affordable and healthful foods. Public-private educational and social marketing campaigns directed towards parents to motivate them to lead healthier lives would be beneficial. Parents better informed on leading healthier lives will be able to serve as better role models for their children. Social media and other communication methods should be explored to determine the best way to effectively communicate information to parents.

Question #14) Specifically with regard to objective 3 (access to healthy, affordable food): What are the biggest challenges to enhancing access to healthy and affordable food in communities across America, and what are the most promising strategies to overcome these challenges?

Challenges to access to healthy and affordable food often depend on the urban environment an individual resides in. Increasing the number of grocery stores, farmers markets, community and school gardens, and access to other healthy fresh or processed and prepared foods would expand food availability and options in low-income areas that may include large cities. School and government policies related to the types of foods available at school also impacts access to healthy and affordable food. Food cost and income largely impact what determines how affordable food is for individuals. Eligibility requirements and ease of participation greatly impact access to nutrition assistance programs as well.

Access to healthy and affordable food may also be impacted by America and the world’s growing population. Emanating from the 2009 World Summit on Food Security was the recognition that by 2050 the world’s population is projected to reach 9.1 billion, 34 percent higher than it is today, and food production must increase by about 70 percent to provide adequate food (FAO 2009). It is critically important that scientific and technological advancements are able to provide the growing world population an adequate, affordable food supply, particularly in areas of most need. IFT is currently drafting a white paper with the working title “Feeding the World: The Important Role of Food Science and Technology in Food Availability” that examines contributions processed, minimally processed and prepared foods have made and will make to society. Food companies are increasingly recognizing their role in providing healthful, nutritious foods and food scientists are willing and at the ready to make scientific contributions to help provide healthy foods. Food science and technology can also continue to assist the American public and others in meeting existing dietary guidelines through enrichment, fortification and other processing technologies that have already helped many in the US and abroad to lead healthier lives.

Thank you for the opportunity to assist the Task Force on Childhood Obesity by providing comments on solving the problem of childhood obesity. IFT is ready and willing to help parents and other consumers understand the science behind food and translate that information into making healthier food choices. IFT would be happy to assist the Task Force in developing a detailed set of recommendations to solve the problem of childhood obesity, or to help the Task Force in any other way deemed appropriate. Please contact William Fisher, Vice President of Science and Policy Initiatives, if IFT may provide further assistance. He can be reached at 1025 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 503, Washington, DC 20036; telephone number: 202-330-4977; or email address: wfisher@ift.org

Sincerely,

Marianne Gillette
IFT President

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