Photo: Let's Move
A Year Of Healthy Eating
Last week, Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign celebrated a full year of its efforts to fight childhood obesity. From it’s initial launch to its recent campaign with Wal-Mart, Let’s Move! has brought dialogue about healthy food choices into the spotlight. The program is led by First Lady Michelle Obama, who founded Let’s Move! with the goal of eliminating childhood obesity within a generation.
This is a tough challenge for a nation where one in every three children is overweight or obese. Let’s Move! takes on this issue by promoting healthy eating, exercise, and working with the food industry so that parents can have more information about what they feed their kids and easier access to nutritious foods.
Holding Industry To High Standards
A widespread inclusions of salad bars to public school lunchlines is promising, but experts say that it will take more than one year to see if the changes promoted by Let’s Move! will be lasting.
The best way that the program can help rid the country of the childhood obesity epidemic will be if it can help Americans make healthier decisions about food, says Dr. David Kessler of the Food and Drug Administration. “The food industry will change when consumers change what they want, and she’s worked hard to help us look at food differently. Long term, that’s what’s important,” he reasons.
Mrs. Obama has already had to balance the program’s goals with the food industry’s aims. For instance, when the Grocer’s Manufactures Association anticipated the Food and Drug Administration’s new labeling system with its confusing and misleading Nutrition Key, Let’s Move! gave the food industry a frosty response.
They commended the initiative, but said that they would have to check it carefully to see that it matched Let’s Move!’s standards. Mrs. Obama did not make a personal statement, but the message was clear: Good enough is not good enough.
Marion Nestle Weighs In
Food policy expert, nutritionists, author, and professor Marion Nestle of Food Politics weighed in on Let’s Move!’s accomplishments in its first year.
“I’m still in awe of the fact that the First Lady took on childhood obesity as a project,” Nestle said. “No public health issue has ever had that kind of leadership before, and I, for one, am grateful for it.”
Nestle says the following success’ are Let’s Move’s best accomplishments:
- It has brought childhood obesity to public attention, as never before.
- The choice of action areas—fixing school food and getting supermarkets into inner city food deserts—makes excellent sense. Both are doable and both can make a real difference to kids and their families.
- Encouraging the makers of packaged foods to reduce salt and sugar and to stop blatant marketing to kids brings attention to their worst practices.
Is Michelle Obama Telling Parents What To Do?
The program hasn’t had unanimous support, though.
Critics such as Sarah Palin say that the government has no right to tell parents what to feed their children, and its involvement with the food industry and public schools is unwarranted.
First Lady Obama responds:
At the core of this effort is really giving parents information and better choices. They’re absolutely right, there is no way that the first lady can or should go into someone’s house and tell them what to eat — it doesn’t work. It wouldn’t work in my household — in fact, I would resent it. But what I do know that parents want is they want help. It’s information that empowers families and communities and moms and dads. So yeah, the critics who believe that’s what Let’s Move! is about just need to be informed about what it really is.
What’s Next For Let’s Move!
So far, Let’s Move! has worked with public schools and national food programs (like the food labels and the food pyramid), and the next food organization it will address is the nation’s restaurants.
Mrs. Obama’s efforts with the National Restaurant Association are in the early stages, but her goals are to challenge restaurant owners to change their menus, recipes, and marketing to provide genuinely healthy meals for kids. For instance, one idea is to have fruit and vegetables as the default side meal instead of french fries.
The same challenges of the industry’s incentives, resistance to change, and questions about the role of the government in private industry will face Let’s Move! in its new initiative, but if the proposal works out as well as its other efforts over the last year, restaurants may become healthier for kids in the near future.