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National Restaurant Association - NRA’s Sweeney: Better child nutrition key to living well

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NRA’s Sweeney: Better child nutrition key to living well

The restaurant industry is committed to addressing child obesity in this country. To that end, Dawn Sweeney, president and CEO of the National Restaurant Association, is leading the charge to educate parents and children about nutrition and making more healthful choices when dining out. Recently, she talked about the NRA’s successful Kids LiveWell initiative and the industry’s efforts to offer better options to its customers.

You are dedicated to helping improve nutrition for children. Where does your commitment come from?
Well, for starters, I’m a mother. Parents everywhere want the very best for their children as they grow up, including the best possible health. Also, I grew up on a farm and have a deep-rooted respect for the quality of American produce, dairy and meats and the value they bring to the table – at home and when dining out. And, as the leader of the nation’s largest organization for restaurants and foodservices, how could I not be concerned with children’s nutritional issues?

What are some of the ways in which you’re exploring this issue?
Aside from the work we’re doing at the National Restaurant Association, I’ve been very involved in a group called ChildObesity180 that has taken a comprehensive, “outside-the-box” approach to examining the causes of the childhood obesity epidemic, and is creating a portfolio of high-impact initiatives that will, collectively, have a positive influence on children’s energy balance throughout the course of a day.

Can you talk a bit about how the group is impacting child obesity?
ChildObesity180 has developed an innovative and multifaceted approach to tackle the complex issue of childhood obesity. Bringing to the table a wide range of stakeholders from all sectors – public, nonprofit, academic, and private   ChildObesity180 provides a politically neutral point of engagement; creates connections among leaders and organizations and utilizes the best available evidence to power up a portfolio of key initiatives to deliver accelerated, amplified impact to improve the health of the nation’s children.

Do you see a shift happening in public perceptions of nutrition?
There is definitely a heightened interested in nutrition and knowing where food comes from. In the restaurant industry, we know that it’s not enough for restaurants to offer healthier options; parents need the understanding to make the best choices for their families.

What is the NRA doing to help increase healthfulness at restaurants?
We have supported efforts to offer nutrition information on menus; the FDA regulations, which will apply to chains with 20 or more locations   about 250,000 locations in total   are expected to take effect this year. The law will provide a national nutrition standard requiring calories of items to be displayed on the menu, menu board or drive-thru, as well as the availability of comprehensive nutrition information, similar to what you’d find on the back of packaged food, at the point of purchase. This is just one tool a family can use in its approach to eating healthier meals. We all need to better understand how nutrition plays a part in an overall healthful lifestyle.

Why is it important for the industry to embrace this issue and offer more healthful items for children?
We’re all very aware of the growing obesity problem in this country. We want to play our part in reaching a solution, but we also know that any answers must address education, physical fitness, and access to healthful foods for the home and on restaurant menus. It’s a complicated issue.

Why is the NRA running the Kids LiveWell initiative?
In 2007, the National Restaurant Association established a healthy-living platform that promotes restaurant operators’ efforts to contribute to a more healthful America. In mid-2011, we launched the Kids LiveWell initiative, a first-of-its kind, voluntary, industry-wide program that helps parents and children select healthful menu options when dining out. Participating restaurants commit to offer and promote healthful meals for children that focus on increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy, while limiting unhealthful fats, sugars and sodium. The program, established in collaboration with Healthy Dining’s team of registered dietitians, has grown to include national, regional and local restaurant brands representing more than 40,000 locations nationwide.

Why has the initiative been so widely accepted?
In the past, there may have been almost a stigma attached to items on a restaurant menu that identified the item as “healthy.” Often, consumers would associate the “healthy” label with “not tasting good”. Those days are now behind us! Today’s restaurants are offering items that incorporate more produce, lean protein and whole grains, while limiting sodium and trans fat. Kids LiveWell is an active example of how our industry can achieve the goal of contributing to a more healthful America.

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