Former president Bill Clinton, who filled a 4,500-seat auditorium to capacity for today's keynote speech at the National Restaurant Association Show, kicked off his speech with an anecdote about type two diabetes.

A few years ago, he said, the disease lost its long-standing nickname of “adult onset diabetes.” That's because, as children got heavier and heavier, nine-year-olds started coming down with the condition. But while Clinton acknowledged the seriousness of the epidemic, he said that by working together, foodservice organizations can also help find solutions.

One example of a successful approach is in the area of beverages children drink in schools, Clinton said. He said that at one point, 50–60 percent of children's daily calories came just from the drinks they consumed at schools. To get this changed, his foundation came up with an approach based on the strategy he used in the third-world to make AIDS medication affordable.

Clinton used financial incentives to persuade drug producers to switch to lower margins, but promised they'd make up for it with a much higher volume. The approach worked and AIDS medication became significantly more affordable. He persuaded those in charge of producing beverages for schools to try a similar tack, working together to promote healthier beverages and make them more profitable by increasing the number sold.

After four years, in 90 percent of the schools there's been an 88 percent reduction in the calories in drinks consumed. Clinton’s organizations are also working with 14,000 schools to change exercise programs. These pragmatic, bipartisan solutions see childhood obesity as something that can only be solved by dealing with the problem at multiple levels.

"The world we live in has a lot of challenges that don't have a simple ideological solution but require and reward cooperation," Clinton says.

"There is a real practical world out there that does not fit with our politics."

By Robert Lillegard

Industry News