One member of our Bette Boomer team once worked on a groundbreaking social marketing campaign called Project LEAN (Low Fat Eating for Americans Now). It was groundbreaking in the sense that it was the first national nutrition social marketing campaign developed, funded and launched by a private foundation. Directed by Program Officer Dr. Sarah E. Samuels, then of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the aim of the campaign in 1987 was to reduce the nation’s risk for heart disease and some cancers by reducing dietary fat consumption to 30% of total calories.  Project LEAN was designed to promote this dietary change among individuals, reinforce the change through organizations, and facilitate the change in settings where people make food choices.  Project LEAN got us all on the right nutritional track. People lowered the saturated fat in their diets. Food manufacturers took heed and reduced saturated fat in their products. The federal government activated labeling changes. Now most Americans know about good fat and bad fat and that trans fat-laden partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, animal fats and tropical oils are bad for us.  But not everyone knows that a balanced diet includes in moderation healthier oils higher in unsaturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The American Heart Association took up the baton with a campaign to educate the public called Face the Fats.  Then an additional piece of the nutrition message dropped into place when benefits of exercise were promoted and Americans became fitness-crazed.  It was a great step forward in health promotion.

However, the problem with the low-fat message was that it was far too simple.  With focus on saturated fat, other types of food we were eating were overlooked, along with the all important calorie and lifestyle choices!  Food manufacturers had upped the sugar content in their low-fat products to make them taste better to the American palate.  Sugar was the substitute for the slip – that fattiness-on-the-tongue taste!  So we smugly ate low-fat products while eating more high carbohydrate and salty foods, gained weight and became increasingly unhealthy.  With more parents working, reliance on fast foods, the internet component factored in and children spending hours sitting instead of actively doing, obesity has reached epidemic proportions, especially among our children. And, obesity is linked to numerous health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.

To combat this, nutritionists focused on changing our children’s eating habits by working to educate the public and make more nutritious food options available in school cafeterias.  The National School Lunch Week initiative launched in 2004, encouraged schools to participate in the USDA’s Healthier US School Challenge (HUSSC). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 17 percent of children ages 2-19 years are obese, and obese children are more likely to become obese adults. Lack of physical activity has been identified as a main culprit.  As more and more children succumb to the obesity epidemic, schools continue to seek ways to increase kids’ activity levels. More of us seem to know what needs to be done to turn things around, but as a nation we are having difficulty getting there.

In our next blog, we will highlight what is working and what more can be done. Until then – eat well to live well!