Thompson Urged to Show Leadership on Obesity, Heart Disease

Why Not Start By Weighing in on the Thickburger?, Asks CSPI


The nation’s leading nutrition advocacy organization says that the top federal health official should be an active participant instead of a hapless spectator in America’s struggle against obesity and other diet-related maladies like heart disease and stroke. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) today urged Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to speak out against unhealthful trends in the food industry like, say, the 1,400-calorie Monster Thickburgers introduced by the Hardee’s fast-food chain.

In 2003, Secretary Thompson indicated he would use his office to encourage food companies to adopt more healthful practices. “I'm going to start giving out awards and singling out ones that are doing good and the ones that aren’t,” Thompson told reporters, according to Reuters. While Thompson attended a media event staged by McDonald’s to promote its salads, CSPI could find no evidence of Thompson actually criticizing a food company.

“It’s not enough just to act as a cheerleader on the rare occasions when a fast-food chain promotes a better food,” said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “Secretary Thompson should be exercising leadership by taking companies to task when their foods promote earlier deaths and debilitating diseases.”

In a letter to Thompson, Jacobson urged the Administration to back pending legislation that would require fast-food chain restaurants to post calorie counts on menu boards. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) are pushing such a bill, the Menu Education and Labeling (MEAL) Act.

“The Secretary of Health and Human Services should be a participant, not just a spectator, in America’s struggle against obesity, heart disease, and stroke,” Jacobson wrote to Thompson. “The debut of the Hardee’s Monster Thickburger would seem like as good a time as any for you come down from the bleachers and get in the game.”

Jacobson said he’s glad to see Secretary Thompson promote exercise and step meters, but exercise alone isn’t enough to prevent obesity.

“A teenage kid would have to walk about 15 miles to burn off a Monster Thickburger,” Jacobson said. “Add a mid-size fries and soda and a typical teen would have to jump rope for four hours straight to burn off that meal. By keeping silent Secretary Thompson is setting kids up for failure.” 

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