Obama adviser questions value of menu calorie lists

More research needed to ascertain effect of counts on reducing obesity levels, says former head of Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ campaign

Robin Schepper(left), former executive director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign and now senior adviser to the Bipartisan Policy Centre and Dr Muireann Cullen, Nutrition and Health Foundation manager, at yesterday’s Nutrition and Health Foundation annual seminar on the theme of obesity and behaviour Change. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Robin Schepper(left), former executive director of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign and now senior adviser to the Bipartisan Policy Centre and Dr Muireann Cullen, Nutrition and Health Foundation manager, at yesterday’s Nutrition and Health Foundation annual seminar on the theme of obesity and behaviour Change. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

There is insufficient evidence linking calorie counts on restaurant menus and a reduction in obesity levels, according to a health adviser to the White House.

Speaking in Dublin the former executive director of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, Robin Schepper, said more research was needed before any definitive statement about the effectiveness of forcing restaurants to list the calories of all meals on menus could be made.

“We don’t know enough about it and there hasn’t been enough research done into it simply because it has not been around long enough,” Ms Schepper said.

The US is rolling out new rules which would force restaurant chains with more than 50 outlets to list calories on menus. “We have to try everything but we just don’t know if it is going to work.”

She also cast doubt on the efficacy of any sugar tax. “We have looked at it and it may not work because you have to set the tax at a very high level for it to be effective,” she said.

Ms Schepper, the keynote speaker at a Nutrition and Health Foundation seminar in Dublin, highlighted the threat posed by a chronic obesity problem which was engulfing almost every country in the developed world.

Excessively overweight
She said the problem had worsened to such an extent that it was posing a national security threat to the US, with thousands of serving members of the military unable to perform their duties because they were excessively overweight.

She said there was no “silver bullet” which could resolve the problem, calling for a multifaceted approach which would tackle individual behaviour, lack of education and environmental issues which were contributing to the problem in the US.

“Everyone always looks for one thing which is the cause of the problem, but that does not exist,” she said. “If you are not taught about the importance of nutrition or don’t exercise or if you live in a town where you have no choice but to use your car, then you have a problem,” she said.

“In the US we asked every agency to make recommendations as to what could be done. Getting every government department involved is not going to solve the problem but it is a step forward. Government has to make it easier for people,” she said.

She said a “huge shift” was required in food education and suggested that half of every plate of food given to children should be made up of fruit and vegetables. “That is the only way a person is going to get their five portions each day.”

Slim city: Oklahoma goes from fat to fit
Robin Schepper is under no illusion about the challenges facing her country when it comes to tackling chronic obesity crisis but the former executive director of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign is still confident that a corner can be turned and a decades-long problem of growing waistlines can be reversed.

She acknowledges that the challenge is immense but is quick to point out that things can change. She cites Oklahoma City as a shining beacon of hope. In 2008 it was named as one of the fattest cities in the US but now it is widely regarded as one of the fittest and its residents have lost millions of pounds while raising millions of dollars to fund aimed at helping people to get out of their cars. “When I was young we walked everywhere. That is not the case today,” Ms Schepper says. “We need to address that.”

The man responsible for addressing it in Oaklahoma is mayor Mick Cornett. In 2008 he weighed about 220lbs – far too much for a man of 5ft 9ins. Rather than going on a diet alone he decided to bring his city with him. He lost a pound a week for 40 weeks and then held a press conference in front of the elephant cages at the city zoo where he announced that his city was going on a diet.

He launched a dieting website – where about 50,000 people registered, a third of those were clinically obese.

Mr Cornett then redrew the city to make it more friendly for pedestrians and cyclists and last year the city reached its million-pound landmark.