The Free Press, Mankato, MN


September 22, 2013

Getting to 'yes' in health care


Obesity remains far too prevalent in the United States. The next stage of progress may be harder to reach, but at least there are new strategies to try.

The Breakfast Initiative aims to get schools to provide healthy breakfasts, including by experimenting with meals in the classroom. The Active Schools Acceleration Project is holding a competition to promote greater physical activity. The Healthy Kids Out of School effort encourages other groups to provide a consistent message: “drink right,” “move more” and “snack smart.” And the Restaurant Initiative looks to boost the demand for and the supply of healthy options when kids eat out.

The federal government itself spends far too much money on efforts not backed by evidence of effectiveness. As Congress turns its attention to the debt limit and next year’s spending levels, it would do well to follow more practical approaches.

Peter Orszag, former director of OMB

No shelter for a killer

Tobacco sickens and, eventually, can kill if consumed as intended. Every country, the United States included, should be taking every effective step to prevent smoking.

And then there’s the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement that would link the United States, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, South Korea, Vietnam and five other countries as never before — spurring global growth and bolstering the United States geopolitically.

Initially, the Obama administration favored a TPP provision exempting individual nations’ tobacco regulations — such as those banning advertising or requiring warning labels. A new proposal, however, simply specifies that tobacco is included in an existing exemption for policies necessary to protect human life or health, and requires governments to consult before challenging each other’s tobacco rules.

The office of U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman explained the new stance reflected “consultations with Congress and with a wide range of American stakeholders” — a polite reference to pushback from farm-state legislators, farm lobbies and other interest groups that feared a tobacco exception would expand to a health-related excuse for protectionism against many other products.

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