Dairy industry a key player in childhood obesity battle

Dairy Council of California

By Peggy Biltz

The recent launch of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative created to combat childhood obesity has helped create an urgency around this issue like never before, and the dairy industry is primed to be a key player in the battle.

Long before childhood obesity became the national concern it is today, Dairy Council of California – in partnership with California’s dairy producers and processors – has been dedicated to improving the eating habits of children and adults through the use of our nutrition education programs. Through Dairy Council, the dairy industry has made great strides in California in forming relationships with educators and health professionals that get our science-based programs into the hands of children and adults. In fact, nutrition education will play a central role in the First Lady’s efforts considering her focus on educating individuals on how to make healthy food and lifestyle choices, and our success in the state positions us well to put Let’s Move initiatives into action at the grassroots level.

Focus on parents

Let’s Move objectives strongly align with long-held Dairy Council nutrition education and health philosophies, including the charge to help parents make healthy choices.  Parents play a key role in making healthy lifestyle and eating choices for their children and Let’s Move is putting together parent education tools.

Dairy Council programs that reach school-aged children include parent components designed to help reinforce at home the nutrition lessons learned in the classroom. Our programs that are delivered to adults through their health professionals teach many lessons about managing not only the individual’s diet, but also the diets of the entire family. Children learn through the example of their parents. Considering life-long habits are formed at an early age, without the proper parental influence, good habits do not stand a chance.

Focus on balance

Balance is another key focus of the Let’s Move initiative. During the launch, the First Lady acknowledged that a fun part of childhood is enjoying certain treats and we can’t ask kids to give all of that up.

“It’s just about balance,” she said. “It’s about small changes that add up – like walking to school, replacing soda with water or skim milk, trimming those portion sizes a little.”

To help achieve this balance she encourages choices from all food groups. This total diet approach is the backbone of Dairy Council’s nutrition education philosophy and over the years it has helped countless individuals improve their eating habits, whether early on in life when eating habits are just being formed or during major life changes such as pregnancy.

Our program evaluations show time and time again that learning how to eat a balanced diet can be effective, particularly when individuals learn they do not have to eliminate foods they love – balance and moderation is key. This maintains milk and milk products as a cornerstone of a healthy diet.

Focus on schools

Getting schools on board to provide healthy food and beverage choices for students is another major initiative within Let’s Move. Dairy Council staff has a long-standing relationship with California schools, including school food service directors.  As discussions continue about what foods and beverages should be included on campus, Dairy Council will continue to work to help maintain a strong position for milk and milk products in our schools.

Also in schools, Dairy Council is working with Dairy Management, Inc. on its Fuel Up to Play 60 initiative, which teaches kids to “fuel up” with nutrient-rich foods and “get up to play” 60 minutes of physical activity a day.

There will likely be a lot of momentum behind the childhood obesity battle in the near and distant future and the dairy industry should be proud of not only our nutritious product offerings, but also our history of bettering the health and wellbeing of countless children throughout California.

The launch of the Let’s Move initiative not only brings a new energy to a fight that we as an industry hold so dear, but it also complements and even strengthens what California’s dairy industry has been doing for quite some time.


Peggy Biltz is chief executive officer of the Dairy Council of California.

For more information on the Dairy Council of California’s mission and nutrition education programs,
go to: www.dairycouncilof ca.org, or e-mail: info@dairycouncilofca.org.