by Bob Swientek
Innovative, “outside-the-box” thinking is needed in product development to get more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables into the diets of Americans, said Sam Kass, White House Chef & Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives at an address to more than 500 students at the Monday evening IFTSA Welcome Assembly & 26th Annual College Bowl Competition.
Kass acknowledged the role that food science and technology plays in our modern society, delivering safe, affordable, and convenient foods. But the unintended consequences of this abundant food supply have contributed to an obesity epidemic in the United States. About one-third of children are overweight or obese and one in three of these children will develop diabetes in their lifetimes, noted Kass. Healthcare costs related to obesity amount to about $150 billion annually in the United States.
“We want to make the healthiest choice the easiest choice,” said Kass. But there is no magic bullet. Solving the obesity epidemic requires a collective effort and everyone must play a part, explained Kass. For food science students, tomorrow’s food leaders, their part and challenge is to create healthier foods with less sodium, sugar, and fat that are delicious.
These challenges are not easy. “If I one day reduced sodium 50% in the dishes I prepare at the White House, I would not have a job,” Kass remarked. “But you can reduce sodium gradually over time so that the food is acceptable and enjoyable.” In addition, Kass noted the examples of microwavable prepared vegetables and bagged salads as ways the food industry is already answering the call for the healthier products.
While First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign is spearheading the effort to end childhood obesity in a generation, the problem will not be solved in Washington, DC, declared Kass. “Obesity is a local issue and must be solved block to block to and neighborhood to neighborhood,” said Kass. “We must ensure that families have access to healthy and affordable foods. We need to connect kids to food at an early age, such as through cooking or planting a vegetable garden. This basic education forms a foundation that will help them make better food choices throughout their lives,” said Kass.