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White House takes aim at obesity
Mayo Clinic
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
Tom Harkin
Tommy Thompson

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration Friday announced a campaign to combat the epidemic of obesity in the United States through improved product labels, health education, and a partnership with restaurants to help steer people toward healthier menu choices.

"It reflects our commitment to reversing this tragic obesity trend, in which far too many Americans are literally eating themselves to death," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said at a news conference unveiling the campaign.

Thompson's comments were timed with a report from the Obesity Working Group of the Food and Drug Administration, stressing a theme of "calories count."

The FDA, in accepting the group's recommendations, plans to take a variety of actions in response.

They include:

  • Reviewing the dietary information panel on packaged food products to underscore the estimated calories in a serving;
  • Defining what it means when a product is described as being "low," "reduced" or "free" in carbohydrates;
  • Encouraging restaurants to include and emphasize nutritional information;
  • Boosting research into obesity and the development of healthier foods.
  • In a written statement, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, commended the effort, but said it falls short.

    "More aggressive steps to curb obesity and give consumers the tools to make healthy decisions are necessary to address this growing crisis," he said.

    Harkin called on Thompson to support his efforts to require that restaurant chains publish the nutritional information of their food and to give the Federal Trade Commission authority over marketing of "junk food" to children.

    Federal figures released this week showed that poor diet -- including obesity and physical inactivity -- is fast approaching tobacco as the top underlying preventable cause of death.

    Researchers looking at data from 2000 found that obesity caused 400,000 U.S. deaths -- more than 16 percent of all deaths. Obesity and inactivity contribute to the risks for some of the top killers: heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes.

    According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 64 percent of adults are obese or overweight. Even more alarming, officials say the number of overweight and obese youth has nearly doubled in the past two decades, and data suggests the levels are still on the rise.

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