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Using performance-based regulation to reduce childhood obesity



Worldwide, the public health community has recognized the growing problem of childhood obesity. But, unlike tobacco control policy, there is little evidence about what public policies would work to substantially reduce childhood obesity. Public health leaders currently tend to support traditional "command and control" schemes that order private enterprises and governments to stop or start doing specific things that, is it hoped, will yield lower childhood obesity rates. These include measures such as 1) taking sweetened beverages out of schools, 2) posting calorie counts on fast-food menu boards, 3) labeling foods with a "red light" if they contain high levels of fat or sugar, 4) limiting the density of fast food restaurants in any neighborhood, 5) requiring chain restaurants to offer "healthy" alternatives, and 6) eliminating junk food ads on television shows aimed at children. Some advocates propose other regulatory interventions such as 1) influencing the relative prices of healthy and unhealthy foods through taxes and/or subsidies and 2) suing private industry for money damages as a way of blaming childhood obesity on certain practices of the food industry (such as its marketing, product composition, or portion size decisions). The food industry generally seeks to deflect blame for childhood obesity onto others, such as parents and schools.

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