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During the next few weeks, MNB will present a series of previews looking at some of the cutting edge topics and speakers who are on the agenda for the 2007 Food Marketing Institute (FMI) Show, scheduled for May 6-8 in Chicago, Illinois.

Dr. William Sears is one of the nation’s most renowned pediatricians, the author of more than 35 books on childcare, including “The Family Nutrition Book” and “The Healthiest Kid In The Neighborhood,” as well as being a regular guest on shows like “Oprah,” “Today” and “Dr. Phil.”

Sears is scheduled to speak in an FMI Super Session, “Promote Wellness and Impact Obesity: Using Nutrition To Win Shoppers” on Tuesday, May 8, at 9:45 a.m. To get a preview of his perspectives on health and nutrition, MNB engaged Sears in this exclusive e-interview:

MNB: It is hard to imagine at this point, considering all the attention paid to obesity and nutrition issues in the media, that parents don’t understand the danger in which they are placing their children. But do you think that the increasing levels of obesity suggest that people simply don’t know? Don’t get it? Or don’t care? And what does this mean?

Dr. William Sears: There are many reasons for the increasing level of childhood obesity, but it boils down to two main facts: kids overeat (especially unhealthy foods) and they under-move. Once upon a time children ran for entertainment. Now they sit for entertainment, as the term “Playstation” indicates. Demographics also play a part since many parents perceive it is no longer safe to let their children run around the neighborhood or run down to a nearby playground. Instead, they sit in the protection of their home playing videogames and eating junk food. Another trigger is that while today’s parents certainly care, we have a generation of what I respectfully call “nutritional wimps.” It used to be that mothers served dinner and if the kids weren’t fond of what she served, tough. Mother simply said: “This is what we’re eating tonight” and the kids ate it. Fortunately, I believe we are at a crisis point where parents are now getting it. The main difference nowadays versus a few years ago is that parents are now willing to do something about it: get their children moving and feeding them less junk food. I do believe that obesity rates have peaked and we will see a gradual decline.

MNB: What role do you think schools should play, not just in terms of serving healthier food, but creating a curriculum that really educates kids about nutrition, exercise and how to live a healthy lifestyle?

Dr. William Sears: The schools need to finally take a leadership role in teaching nutrition and providing nutritious meals. The outlawing of sweetened beverages in vending machines has certainly been a start. The school lunch program has a long way to go, but at least many schools are focusing on more nutritious fare. Where schools could do a better job is teaching health and nutrition. I believe it should be a required subject, added to the three R’s. After all, if childhood obesity is the number one health concern in America, shouldn’t children be required to learn about nutrition?

Restart physical education programs in schools. Teach the LEAN Start and LEAN Kids Programs in schools. The program of traffic-light eating – green-light, yellow-light, and red-light foods – in addition to teaching “grow foods” and non-grow foods. The Children and Families Commission of Orange County (CA) along with Boys & Girls Clubs in the same county have found tremendous results with these programs.

MNB: Do you believe in a government role, i.e. banning trans fats? Where is the line that should or should not be crossed?

Dr. William Sears: Yes.

The government needs to take a leadership role and be proactive instead of reactive. Yet, don’t rely on the government to make drastic changes quickly because of a simple fact: government programs, such as the food pyramid (the new pyramid is certainly an improvement over the old, but still has a long way to go toward being practical), is under the authorship of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, whose main purpose is to stimulate the economy of the agricultural industry. This was a huge government mistake. Government nutrition programs should be under the direction of the National Institutes of Health instead of the U.S.D.A. Until that happens, don’t rely on the government to solve the obesity crisis.

Yes, I believe the banning of trans fats, as was done in New York, is certainly long overdo and will save many lives and prevent many illnesses. I believe that omega-3 deficiency is the number one nutritional deficiency in America and probably contributes to what I call N.D.D., or nutrition deficit disorder. Government supervision of fish farming is woefully inadequate. By setting strict guidelines on the types of foods that can be fed to fish in the fish farms, at least economically-pressed consumers could buy farmed salmon and get its nutritional benefits in a safe way.

MNB: Product labeling seems to a real issue – there are labels saying almost everything, many of them misleading, and it strikes me that in this case increased information has not led to improved consciousness among consumers. How would you address this problem?

Dr. William Sears: Product labeling needs to be overhauled to make it more honest and consumer-friendly. One of the first changes I would like to see is the term “added sugars” put on the food label. Right now the term “sugars” is misleading, since there are healthy sugars and unhealthy sugars. As a consumer, I want to know how much sugar or artificial sweetener has been added to the product.

MNB: If you were going to design the perfect supermarket, one that would really address nutritional issues for families, what would that store look like?

Dr. William Sears: First of all the supermarket would have a big aisle entitled “grow foods” or “green-light grow foods.” This would include produce, seafood, dairy products, and whole grains. There would be no foods that have anything artificially added to them.

I would like to see the supermarket divided into green-light, yellow-light, and red-light foods. (Naturally, this won’t happen, since “red-light foods” are “don’t eat” foods.) Yet, I would like to see supermarkets have some type of rating system on the health and nutritional value of various foods. This would be helpful for the consumer that is less nutrition savvy to at least have some guidance about the health of a food. I would like to see supermarkets encourage more safe seafood, such as wild salmon, and tout its health benefits.

MNB: It seems to me that there is today a kind of perfect storm of criteria leading to poor nutrition and childhood obesity in America – parents who work and don’t supervise their children, increased availability of fast food, inability or lack of interest in cooking, and an entertainment environment that encourages placid rather than active pursuits. Doesn’t this mean that there have to be some fundamental cultural shifts in order to really combat childhood obesity and create greater wellness?

Dr. William Sears: Yes, there does need to be some fundamental cultural shifts, but really it boils down to the fact that consumer parents need to make healthy nutrition a priority. It comes down to education. They need to be informed that one of the best ways to prevent the debilitating diseases that are now rampant in America, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and inflammatory disease (such as arthritis) is by improving children’s eating and exercise habits. Parents need to be taught the concept of metabolic programming and nutragenetics – that is the relationship between childhood eating and living habits and later adult diseases.
KC's View:
One more time, this reminder about the annual MNB Wine Party scheduled for FMI…

On Sunday, May 6, from 6-7:30 pm, we will once again be hanging out at the Bin 36 bar…and if any members of the MNB community would like to stop by, say hello, and chat for a bit…well, the first couple of bottles of wine will be on us. It’ll be a great opportunity for all of us to put faces and voices with the names and words that appear on MNB plus an excuse to drink good wine. (Not that we need an excuse…)

And there will be a special guest appearance this year – for the first time, Mrs. Content Guy will be joining us!

Bin 36 is located at 339 N Dearborn on the west side of Marina City, between the river and Kinzie.

See you in Chicago.