Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Lessons from youth anti-smoking campaigns

Now it’s time for a positive post: The Petaluma Health Center in Sonoma County California is taking a stand against childhood obesity. With education and active involvement in the planting, nurturing, picking and cooking of healthy fruits and vegetables, the health center is looking to combat the 35% childhood obesity rate at the clinic.

The Petaluma Health Center is a non-profit Federal Qualified Health Center (FQHC) providing primary and mental health care to the Sonoma County California community. The Petaluma "Loves Active Youth" program includes nurturing the community garden, cooking demonstrations and weekly meetings aimed at teaching children healthy eating habits and emphasizing the importance of exercise.

There are examples from the past of how government involvement and education have helped to curb unhealthy habits in children and youth. Lets look for a moment at the 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. The Settlement Agreement was reached between 4 of the largest tobacco companies and the vast majority of the states. The Agreement settled all forms of lawsuits between the states and those four tobacco companies- including antitrust, common law negligence and claims for monetary relief from the tobacco companies. In exchange for this settlement the following occurred (this list is not exhaustive):

  • the 4 tobacco companies payed $206 billion dollars to the states
  • the 4 tobacco companies payed $25 million dollars each year for 10 years to a create a foundation with the purpose of supporting the study of programs which reduce teenage smoking and supporting the prevention of diseases associated with smoking.
  • the 4 tobacco companies were required to create a $1.45 billion dollar industry-funded national public education program for tobacco control. The TRUTH campaign ( is a direct results of this money.
  • tobacco companies were prohibited from targeting youth in advertising, promotions or marketing of tobacco products. In addition, cartoon characters were banned for use in advertising due to the possible appeal they may have to youth.
  • the tobacco companies were banned from most outdoor advertising including advertising in stadiums and arenas
  • the tobacco companies were prohibited from lobbying against any state or local proposed laws that are aimed at tobacco youth access or prevention of youth smoking.
The Master Settlement Agreement was the beginning of a trend in America towards an anti-smoking attitude. Now, more than ever, smoking has the reputation of being “uncool” rather than “cool.” As you can see from the following graph, smoking rates among youth peaked around 1997 and have dramatically decreased ever since. The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement was enacted in 1998. Additionally, in 1999 the government created the Nation Tobacco Control Program which funded all 50 states in their efforts to reduce smoking rates. This illustrates a direct correlation between government education and control programs aimed at youth tobacco consumption and a decrease in youth tobacco use. Additionally, according the Centers for Disease Control, research shows that the more states spend on comprehensive tobacco control programs, the greater the reductions in smoking—and the longer states invest in such programs, the greater and faster the impact. (3)

So what does the Petaluma “Loves Active Youth” Program have to do with anti-smoking campaign success? It is highly possible that a government-run educational program and government control over fast-food advertising aimed at children may help reduce the rate of childhood obesity. However, unlike anti-smoking campaigns, it is also extremely important that parents are actively involved in the anti-obesity fight. I believe that it is just as important, if not more important, to education parents about eating healthy and exercising in order to maintain health. The Petaluma Program is an excellent example of a government funded entity supporting the childhood obesity problem through education and awareness.




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