Schwarzenegger and Clinton Speak At Health Summit

At last week's 2010 Summit on Health, Nutrition and Obesity, in front of famed muscle man Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, President Bill Clinton made an admission. He is addicted to Starbuck's raspberry scones. This confession was made only weeks after he was released from the hospital after having heart surgery for blocked arteries. Imagine Clinton's shock when he realized that those tasty scones contain nearly 500 calories.

Speaking about his enjoyment of snacks made with high fructose corn syrup, Clinton called himself "either a victim or complicit…maybe a little of both," causing the audience to break into laughter.

Obesity in American, however, is no laughing matter. Over the past 20 years Californians have gained 48 million tons of extra body fat, said Schwarzenegger. Type 2 diabetes used to be called adult-onset diabetes until children started developing it, said Clinton.

The summit brought educators, administrators, legislators and concerned parents to the California Endowment last Wednesday, Feb. 24 to discuss the ever-expanding problem of adult and child obesity in America.

President Clinton said that in the Medicaid budget alone, obesity-related problems like diabetes, heart problems and babies with lower birth weight exceed $150 billion in cost. "The cost of this is killing us," he said. "I do not think this is a partisan political issue whether our kids live or die."

Julie Fabrocini, Executive Director of CHIME Charter Schools, attended the Summit as a concerned educator. The Chime Institute is a nonprofit organization that facilitates inclusive education of children of all disabilities.

"We know for sure that kids that are not eating enough of the right things are more sluggish learners," said Fabrocini. "We are mass marketing and producing these convenience foods that are packaged to look healthy, but they're not if you look at the label."

Governor Schwarzenegger's press release states that one in nine children and one in three teens are overweight or obese. Schwarzenegger said that California has wasted $50 billion on health issues related to obesity. He estimated that the high-speed rail could be built along the coast of California for $50 billion.

The Governor praised the success of his 2005 plan banning sodas and junk food from California public schools but observes that this need not have a detrimental effect on American food manufacturers.

"We didn't make the producers of those foods that are high calorie, high carbohydrates the enemy, but we brought them in as part of the discussion and made them part of the solution," said Schwarzenegger. "The same with the soda manufacturers. We asked them to produce drinks which are healthy."

The next product slated to be terminated by Schwarzenegger are the electrolyte sports drinks that the Governor said are "full of sugar and make our kids overweight." The high fructose corn syrup-saturated sports drinks stayed in schools even after soda was banned because of a loophole in legal wording, said Schwarzenegger.

The first audience member to address a question to Clinton and Schwarzenegger was Physical Education Specialist Zephrini Lee of the Los Angeles Unified School District. He asked the politicians how they planned to bar the school district from serving lunches that contain high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils.

Clinton said he would "take a stab" at answering Lee's question and then placed the blame on schools, not manufacturers. "The school districts need to stop buying that stuff," said Clinton. He said that consumer demand will drive the market and that companies that use high fructose corn syrup will respond to decreased sales, not increased legislation.

Lee, who is called the "food police" by his students, said that he wasn't satisfied by Clinton's response. The school district does not have the luxury of denying certain vendors because of contractual obligations, said Lee. He thought that Clinton oversimplified the school district's situation by saying that they could simply pick and choose which vendors to buy from.

Lee also said that Clinton underestimated how unhealthy high fructose corn syrup is. "Unlike other sugars," Lee said, "It bypasses your liver and coverts to fat, unless you're a world-class athlete." Lee says that high fructose corn syrup means trouble for the average Joe or those who lead primarily sedentary lifestyles.

In a separate interview after a press conference for the summit, Secretary of the Department of Food and Agriculture and former beekeeper, A.G. Kawamura, commented on the high fructose debate.

"There are other alternative sugars showing up," said Kawamura. "They're not bad for you in moderation." He went on to say that corn can be beneficial depending on how you use it. "You can put it in the tank of a car, for instance," he said.

As Clinton summed up his opinion about high fructose corn syrup, he sympathized with corn producers and soda, sports drink and snack food companies.

"There are no real devils here," he said. "Most of these things were unintended consequences of moves that seemed absolutely smart at the time, seemed like they could cut the costs of schools for food, seemed like they would make it possible to get more food to poor people in America and even around the world."