Iowa Senator Tom Harkin says change often comes slowly in Washington D.C., but this week is bringing several encouraging steps in efforts to curb childhood obesity. Harkin, a Democrat, authored a bill that passed in 2010 that brought the first reforms in years to school lunches, while stipulating nutrition requirements on all foods in schools, including cafeterias, vending machines and snack bars.
Harkin says he was thrilled at this week’s developments along those lines. “The U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled ambitious guidelines for school wellness programs which included a ban on marketing in schools of junk foods and beverages that fail to meet the new Smart Snacks in Schools standards,” Harkin says, “standards that are the result of my bill requiring those nutrition guidelines.”
A report came out this week, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that found obesity rates in children between the ages of two and five have dropped by 43-percent in less than a decade. “According to experts, one likely reason for this decline is that food companies, under pressure from me and others, have limited their TV advertisements targeting children,” Harkin says. “As CDC director Tom Frieden says, quote, ‘This confirms that at least for kids, we can turn the tide and begin to reverse the obesity epidemic.'”
Harkin chairs the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Late Wednesday, he announced he’s co-sponsoring a bill that would ban all advertising and marketing that targets children in the sales of electronic cigarettes. “I think we have to start looking at just what these e-cigarettes are and the fact that more and more kids are beginning to smoke these e-cigarettes,” Harkin says. “I think it’s an ominous sign and it’s something we’ve got to get on top of in a hurry.”
In a news release, Harkin said: “It is troubling that manufacturers of e-cigarettes – some of whom also make traditional cigarettes – are attempting to establish a new generation of nicotine addicts through aggressive marketing that often uses cartoons and sponsorship of music festivals and sporting events.” In the state legislature, members of the Iowa House have voted to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. The measure has yet to pass in the Iowa Senate.