Author and educator Anna Lappé is working to inform Americans about the nation’s food system. Co-founder of the Small Planet Institute, she also is aiming to transform our food system and make healthy food accessible to all.
What inspired you to start working on childhood obesity?
I see childhood obesity as a symptom of our broken food system. It is a system that is spreading an epidemic of diet-related disease. Experts say this generation of children may be the first in U.S. history to live shorter lives than their parents. Yet the junk food industry — with McDonald’s leading the pack —continues to drive this epidemic by spending nearly $2 billion every year in marketing directly to kids, and many times that in general marketing campaigns, that children are also exposed to. Ultimately, children do not understand advertising’s persuasive intent and this marketing to kids is just plain wrong.
How are you helping to reverse childhood obesity?
I work on three fronts: educating about the issues, organizing for action and funding change-makers. All of these are key to reversing diet-related illnesses. But first and foremost, I believe we must educate people about the root causes driving the crisis. And one of the factors that often gets overlooked when we talk about root causes is the role of pervasive marketing to kids.
What’s your biggest accomplishment so far in helping reduce childhood obesity?
For my Real Food Media Project, I’ve been working a lot with the amazing non-profit Corporate Accountability International. Through their Value [the] Meal campaign, tens of thousands of people across the US and around the world have joined together to call on a multibillion dollar junk food corporation — McDonald’s — to change its practices by ending predatory marketing of junk food to children. Thanks to the support of these people, including more than 3,000 health professionals and parents, we’ve been able to shift the public conversation around the fast food industry and its role in making kids sick. More and more people are speaking out about issues like big food getting around parents to market directly to kids. We are working toward a vision of the world whereparents can raise their children without their schools, sports leagues, libraries, playgrounds, community centers, internet experience, and celebrity role models hooking them on junk food.
On the home front, I’m proud to be a mom to two healthy girls who love kale chips. Knock on wood.
Who is your role model in your work?
I have too many to list now, but I’ll share my latest: the 9-year-old girl, Hannah Robertson, who had the guts to stand up to McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson at the annual shareholder meeting to call on the company to stop its predatory marketing to kids.
What healthy snacks did you enjoy growing up?
Well, as the daughter of Frances Moore Lappé, and the test child of her 1971 classic Diet for a Small Planet, I enjoyed a lot of healthy snacks growing up. Many ripped from the pages of Diet. And, thankfully, I enjoyed most of them. The junkiest food that I could find in my kitchen growing up was peanut butter on rice cakes with honey. Seriously.
Now, as a mom myself to a 4-year-old and 1 ½-year-old, I now find myself feeding my kids much the way my mom did. I’m fortunate. We have access to lots of great food where we live and I see what a difference it makes in their energy and their mood to be eating lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthy proteins. We’re also fortunate that we live in a place where my girls can spend so much time outside, running, playing, biking. Every kid should have these opportunities.
I am proud to be part of a movement working to ensure that all kids, everywhere, have access to good healthy food and the places and spaces to be kids—to play, run, jump, swing. I look forward to the day when all kids have these most basic building blocks of a healthy life.
Click here to connect with Anna Lappé.
Want to take part in a Gimme Five? Contact PreventObesity.net’s Zach Brooks.