First Lady Michelle Obama introduced a new ambitious national goal to her agenda this past February. Childhood obesity rates have steadily risen in the United States and Obama plans to solve the alarming increase of the disease within the next generation so that today’s children will be able to live adulthood at a healthy weight. In order to facilitate this effort, Obama unveiled Let’s Move, a national campaign that plans to coordinate public and private efforts in partnership for a healthier America.
The United States government established a consolidated effort to battle obesity at the beginning of the millennium. Healthy People 2010 is a federal program that takes state and local efforts promote a healthy America accountable. This program focuses on increasing the quality and years of healthy life through narrowing in on eliminating healthy disparities such as care for the disable and reducing food borne illnesses. While no state fulfilled its goals for the decade, Healthy People has been renewed for 2020; Let’s Move attempts to take on a complementary and more direct approach to the battle.
The White House is determined to reintroduce traditional vegetables and fruits into the American diet. Currently French fries are the most popular vegetable and account for 25% of children’s vegetable intake. Also, 40% of children’s fruit intake comes from juice. This Ohio State University research shows that if French fries and juice were removed from the survey data, America’s children would be considered malnourished according to the Food and Drug Administration’s nutritional standards.
Nearly one-third of American children are overweight or obese. This rate has tripled in adolescents and more than doubled in younger children since 1980. Weight related diseases such as type-2 diabetes, were nearly non-existent in America’s youth a few decades ago, however more than 75% of obese children have been diagnosed with the threatening and complicated disease.
Let’s Move is committed to including all demographics into the initiative. The FY2011 Budget allocated $1.5 million towards preventing and treating childhood obesity in American Indian and Alaska Natives, where the childhood obesity rate is reaching 50%. The White House wants to support localized effort on a federal level. The Special Diabetes Program for Indians has proven successful is the fight against childhood obesity and type-2 diabetes, and they will receive $150 million from the Budget.
Combating food deserts is at the crust of the White House’s campaign. There are 23 million Americans, including 6.5 million are children, that live in low income rural and urban areas over one mile away from a supermarket. These food deserts contribute to the lack of nutrition in the average American’s diet because produce has become not only expensive, but difficult to attain.
The President has allocated $400 million in the FY2011 Budget towards the U.S. Treasury and Agriculture and Health and Human Services to fund a joint effort to bring healthier food options to local shops and bodegas. The engagement of the private sector in these efforts is a cornerstone to the First Lady’s proposal.
The First Lady honored Jeffrey Brown, a local hero in Philadelphia, during the President’s State of the Union. Brown is dedicated to the Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI), a Pennsylvania program that provides grants and loans for grocery-store development. His chain, Brown’s Super Markets, has been adopted as the ultimate model for grocer innovation. Brown’s markets have been hailed as the heart of local neighborhoods through providing jobs and exemplifying the important role of healthy nutrition in families.
However, there are many critics of the realism in transforming America’s food industry into a Brown Super-Market model.
“If the first lady thinks this is our No. 1 objective for children and government is going to give us half an apple, there is a gap,” said Ann Cooper, founder of lunchbox.org, a healthy eating website. “We really need to allocate more money.”
In the next decade, Mrs. Obama’s goal is to spend an extra $1 billion per year to bolster lunch programs in schools. However, critics note that there are about 5.4 billion school lunches served annually throughout the U.S. In the end, there would only be an additional $0.15 spent on lunches, not enough to consistently purchase more fresh produce for students; an apple for lunch in Colorado costs the meal provider $0.25. Regardless, school food manufacturers have signed up for the effort and have pledged to double the portion of fruits and vegetables in school lunches with these funds.
Additionally, Mrs. Obama’s plan seeks to reform the way doctors prevent and diagnose obesity. Currently, it is not a norm that doctors regularly measure a child’s BMI, Body Mass Index. This measures height and weight to compute a number that indicates body fat percentage and categorizes BMI into underweight, normal, overweight, and obese. These categorizations are most reliable for adults; children’s weight fluctuates on a monthly basis and is not the same for both males and females. Because Let’s Move is focused on childhood obesity and its prevention, critics recommend not enforcing BMI calculations as a foolproof mechanism to determine obesity. Rather, some would prefer to see doctor’s use skin fold thickness measurements and physical activity assessments to best diagnose obesity.
Beyond tackling the financial hurdles combating childhood obesity entails, the First Lady is engaging legislation. On February 9th, President Obama signed a memorandum establishing a childhood obesity task force. In three months, the task should be set into place to execute Let’s Move’s objectives.
With the Task Force under way, Congress is preparing its 2010 reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. This Act is only reauthorized every five years and is essentially the policy that determines school food policy and resources. While Mrs. Obama does not plan to testify, her involvement in drafting the legislation is crucial; cooperation with Let’s Move brings about a unique opportunity for Washington to truly learn about school food issues.
The goal of ending childhood obesity in America in the next generation is ambitious. Mrs. Obama and her team have big dreams for big America. There are many facets of today’s society, from produce access to school lunch funding, that will require major overhaul. While law and money will be able to facilitate a diet, America must finally, willingly step on the scale.