Harkin helped get a nutrition requirement for restaurants into the health care law. He has been a longtime advocate for healthier foods, such as at this 2007 news conference where he called for legislation requiring schools to serve healthier foods.
The United States recently hit the pause button on rising obesity levels among adults after nearly a generation of ever-expanding waistlines, research indicates.
Now the questions are whether the slowdown is a fluke or represents a turning point in the fight against fat, and what can be done to continue the trend.
Overall, the national share of obese adults remained at 35.7 percent in 2012, about the same as the previous year, according to a Trust for Americaís Health report based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. If overweight adults are added to the mix, 69 percent of Americans 19 and older are carrying extra pounds.
It is a level that alarms public health officials, even though an August report by the CDC found that obesity rates for low-income preschool children in 18 states have declined. The share of young people ages 2 to 19 considered obese is still 17 percent. And more than 31 percent of all U.S. children are overweight or obese.
On Jan. 7, the Institute of Medicine convenes a roundtable devoted to finding solutions to obesity. The panel, which is funded for three years, will not make formal recommendations to Congress but it is charged with identifying best practices and effective ways government, business and communities can change the nationís food, exercise and health habits.
The members come from the areas of academia, civil rights, fitness and exercise, government, public health, foundations and the food industry. They will be able to set up smaller groups, some that include nonmembers, to do surveys, commission white papers or dissect successful anti-obesity efforts in communities.
Congress has a mixed record on food and fat issues. In 2009, some lawmakers and nutrition advocates pressed unsuccessfully for a tax on sugary drinks, primarily soft drinks, to reduce peopleís consumption. The money raised would have provided a small revenue stream for health care expansion.
Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut got a requirement into the health care law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152) that chain restaurants with more than 20 locations must post calorie counts for their goods.
But other lawmakers have pushed back against tougher nutrition standards for federal breakfast and lunch meals that emphasize fruits and vegetables and reduce fat and sugar intake. They say the standards are impractical, expensive and leave some athletic kids hungry.