If Congress makes combating childhood obesity a priority in 2010, the food industry will do its part to help. That was the message delivered to the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health last month by Mary Sophos, senior vice president at the Grocery Manufacturers Association.

“The food and beverage industry already has taken significant steps to create and encourage healthier choices,” Sophos said in her testimony. “In recent years, we have changed our packaging to promote portion control and we have reformulated more than 10,000 products to reduce or remove saturated fats, trans fats, calories, sugar and sodium.

“Changes in advertising practices have resulted in a significant shift in the product mix of advertising viewed by children, and companies continue to compete by focusing on consumers’ desires for healthy products and a healthy lifestyle,” Sophos added.

Dr. Bill Dietz, director, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity, an arm of the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, told the committee the rise in childhood obesity can be linked to too much unhealthy food and drink and too much television viewing. The combination magnifies the problem, he suggested.

“The impact of television on childhood obesity is likely mediated by the food advertisements directed at children, and the consumption of foods advertised on television,” Dietz said.

Sophos wants government to step up its efforts and devote more of its resources to combating obesity. “It is critical that Congress and the states do more to increase investments in physical education, nutrition education and workplace wellness,” she said.