Howard County making a healthy effort [Letter]

This is in response to the article by Amanda Yeager regarding Howard County's limits on sugary drinks and junk food at county-sponsored events ("Ban on sweets sours Fourth of July vendors," July 2).

As a physician, I am very concerned about the obesity problem that adversely impacts adults and children in the United States as well as the rising incidence of Type 2 Diabetes related to increasing weight. Not only is there an impact on the cost of health services associated with diabetes but there are very serious impacts on quality of life as well as a reduction in total life expectancy. The Institute of Medicine is an organization that utilizes the expertise of nationally renowned researchers and public health experts to respond to challenges in the health field. It has reviewed numerous scientific studies and developed nutrition recommendations on what government, health care personnel and individuals can do to minimize the risk of various chronic diseases associated with obesity.

The executive order signed by Howard County Executive Ken Ulman to utilize the Institute of Medicine guidelines to develop food and drink standards that apply to items offered at county-sponsored events as well as in vending machines in county buildings shows outstanding leadership in applying scientific studies to promote good health and ultimately reduce the soaring costs of health care. Vendors who fear loss of sales could request help from the Howard County Health Department in identifying products that meet the requirements of Mr. Ulman's executive order. They might also enjoy increased sales as a result of offering items that are both tasty and healthy to a significant segment of the population that will not purchase anything that is currently offered.

I am reminded of the concerns by Howard County restaurant owners who were upset several years ago about the smoking restrictions and their possible adverse impact on business. What happened in Howard County and jurisdictions throughout the country was that restaurants experienced increased business as a result of people's enjoying a dining experience without the smell and adverse health impact of tobacco smoke.

In addition, I would encourage Councilman Greg Fox, my representative on the County Council, to withdraw his proposed legislation, Council Bill 37-2014, that eliminates the county government's nutrition standards and prohibits the county executive from establishing any standards in the future. Rather, Mr. Fox would better serve the Howard County community by promoting efforts to encourage a collaborative effort by the Health Department, vendors at fairs, festivals and football games, as well as health professionals to identify and promote food and drink options that customers can enjoy without harming their health.

Mr. Fox commented that "adults can make adult decisions and the market can take care of healthier things." Unfortunately, the market does not offer a level playing field. Processed foods high in sugar, salt and fat and sweetened beverages are very addictive. They continue to be sold by the food industry which reaps huge profits and are promoted at every turn by multi-million dollar advertising campaigns.

The average consumers, both adults and children, do not stand a chance!

Mr. Fox and other members of the County Council should support efforts to improve the health and well-being of Howard Countians by retaining Mr. Ulman's executive order, supporting approaches for helping vendors identify and market food and beverage options that are tasty and healthy and, finally, seeking creative advertising that encourages citizens to make healthy choices.

Dr. Barbara P. Wasserman, Ellicott City

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