Michelle Obama says 'Let's Move' on obesity in American kids

Michelle Obama introduced the 'Let's Move' campaign to fight childhood obesity. It encourages more physical activity for kids, healthier meals in schools, and prominent food labeling.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
First lady Michelle Obama points out some student athletes as she announces a campaign to combat the rapidly growing problem of childhood obesity Tuesday in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington.

Michelle Obama on Tuesday announced a new nationwide “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity. But will it really help? Can Washington do anything about a complex problem that involves the individual food and exercise choices of millions of families across the US?

Absolutely, says one expert. Some federal policies, such as those that deal with agricultural subsidies or funding for parks, directly affect children’s lifestyles, says James Sallis, director of Active Living Research, a nonprofit that studies causes of childhood obesity.

Plus, Mrs. Obama’s access to the bully pulpit of the White House could raise national awareness of the issue, just as her South Lawn vegetable garden has promoted the virtues of fresh produce.

“I’m hoping her leadership, based on her experience as a mother, will create momentum, with a lot of groups working together in a way that will outlast the Obama administration,” says Mr. Sallis.

More physical activity, healthier food

The Let’s Move campaign will encourage more physical activity for children, healthier food in schools, and more visible food labeling, said Mrs. Obama at her afternoon announcement ceremony.

She recounted her own wake-up moment, after the birth of her own children, when a pediatrician pulled her aside and said there was perhaps a little too much junk in the Obama diet and she needed to do things a little differently.

“Many parents desperately want to do the right thing but they think the deck is stacked against them,” she said.

Specifically, as part of the Let’s Move campaign the Food and Drug Administration will work with beverage and food manufacturers to make labels more customer friendly – “so people don’t have to spend hours squinting at words they can’t pronounce to figure out whether the food they are buying is healthy or not,” according to Obama.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, as part of Let’s Move, will encourage all pediatricians in the US to measure the body mass index of children at wellness visits, to help determine whether they tend toward obesity.

The Obama administration is requesting an additional $10 billion over 10 years to improve the quality of school lunches and breakfasts, and to increase participation in school nutrition programs. Congress would have to authorize this request.

Disney and other companies will help

Let’s Move will work with Disney, NBC, Viacom, and other media companies to develop a public awareness campaign aimed at educating parents and kids about anti-obesity strategies.

The campaign has also developed a website, LetsMove.gov, where parents can download recipes and exercise plans.

As part of the effort, President Obama on Tuesday signed an order establishing a federal task force to tackle the problem.

Some 30 percent of US children are now obese, by some measures. The US leads the developed world in its incidence of overweight children.

There is no one magic solution to the problem, notes Sallis of Active Living Research, which is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“We’re going to have to do a number of things that add up,” says Sallis.


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