WASHINGTON - At the upcoming National Nutrition Summit to be held in Washington, D.C., May 30 and 31, the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) will urge the government to mount major healthy-eating campaigns to curb America’s craving for junk food. CSPI will recommend collecting small taxes on soft drinks or snack foods to pay help for expanded nutrition-education campaigns. The group will also urge rules to keep junk foods out of schools, and to put Nutrition Facts labels on fresh meat and poultry.

     “Poor diet and physical inactivity are estimated to cause about 310,000 to 580,000 deaths annually due to cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” said Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of CSPI. “In plain terms, junk food kills as many Americans as tobacco. And if the human cost isn’t enough, consider the financial burden – the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the cost at more than $71 billion a year in added health-care and related expenses.”

     In the past 20 years, obesity rates have increased in adults, teens, and children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half of all adults are overweight or obese, and obesity rates in children and teens have doubled since the late 1970s.

     “The government needs to do more than just cross its fingers and hope that the obesity epidemic goes away,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for CSPI. “It needs to mount campaigns and implement policies that will make it easier for people to eat well and be active.”

     “Currently, the government spends only $1 million a year to promote fruits and vegetables (5 A Day) and the CDC’s entire Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity has just $6.5 million,” continued Wootan. “In contrast, McDonald’s spends more than a billion dollars a year promoting its products, and the soft-drink industry more than $500 million.”

     “Gas stations have become 24-hour candy stores, entire grocery aisles are set aside for bags of chips and pop, restaurant portion sizes are enormous, and fast food is sold even in hospitals and schools,” said Jacobson. “Health advocates have proven that anti-smoking messages can change behavior, if they are frequent and hard-hitting. It’s time we had similar campaigns promoting healthy eating and physical activity.”

     “One way to fund health programs would be to charge a penny or two tax on soft drinks or other junk foods,” continued Jacobson. “More than a dozen states already have such taxes, but they don’t earmark the revenues for health.”

     Recommendations CSPI will make at the National Nutrition Summit include:

  • Congress should provide $30 million to the CDC to mount campaigns to promote healthy eating and physical activity.
  • The National Cancer Institute should increase funding for its 5 A Day program to at least $15 million per year.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture should require Nutrition Facts labels on fresh meat and poultry, as it already does for processed meats.
  • The Food and Drug Administration should require Nutrition Facts labels to declare refined sugars.
  • Congress should promote children’s health by limiting junk food sales in schools.
  • Small taxes should be placed on soft drinks or other snack foods and the revenues used to promote nutrition and physical activity. (Seventeen states and two cities including New York, California, and Chicago, already tax soft drinks or snack foods.)