Michelle Obama's Weighty Issues with Childhood Obesity

Stacy Matson | Celebrity Health
Michelle Obama's Weighty Issues with Childhood Obesity

image by: The White House

I am determined to work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition - Michelle Obama

What is the role of the modern First Lady? I suppose it's whatever she wants it to be, right? The position of first lady doesn't have a job description, so it's up to them to choose the direction they wish to follow. Some may choose to play the silent, behind the scenes spouse, who smiles pretty and supports everything the President does. Or, they may choose take a more active role like campaigning side by side and creating policies that change the nation.

That is the path that Michelle Obama has taken, one that is active and creates change. For two years now she's been using her influential position to create and promote a program that she hopes will eliminate childhood obesity in America. She isn't working alone though; the First Lady has enlisted celebrities, athletes, large corporations, healthcare providers, and schools to help her promote the idea that a healthy lifestyle can be fun and cool.

The idea was formed after an eye-opening visit to the pediatrician in which Mrs. Obama was forced to rethink her family's lifestyle; from what the family ate and how often they exercised to how much TV they watched. That is when change began, in both the White House and across the nation.

Mrs. Obama started the Let's Move campaign in 2010. The program's main objective is to change the way American children eat and exercise. She said, "This isn't a just a policy issue for me. This is a passion. This is my mission. I am determined to work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition." That's pretty ambitious.

I mean, we are the United States. Home of the biggest everything... Why have a 12 ounce can of coke when 72 ounces is better? Why order one hamburger when you can get the mega jumbo platter with 2 double bacon cheeseburgers, hold the lettuce and tomato, and 1 pound of greasy French fries for $1.99? Yumm, what's for dessert?

American's like their food and that's why I call Michelle Obama's program ambitious. She is trying to change our (over) eating habits and END childhood obesity within a single generation.

But, childhood obesity isn't just a problem, it's an epidemic; and the statistics are alarming:

  • 33% of Caucasian children are overweight or obese
  • 40% of African American and Hispanic children are overweight or obese
  • 70% of obese children have at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease
  • 3,700 overweight children are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes every year

Even more alarming, is the fact that the rate of children identified as obese has tripled in the past thirty years. Why? Because kids spend a lot of time in front of the TV, or the computer, or playing video-games and less time outside running around, being kids. Oh yeah, and because kids eat crappy food. Families are busy and that leaves very little time for parents to prepare nutritious snacks or home-cooked meals. Whatever is quick, inexpensive, and easy is the reality for most families.

That's where Mrs. Obama's Let's Move campaign comes into play, pun intended. Let's Move is about putting children on the path to a healthy future. The campaign's primary goal is to motivate children to become more active and eat healthier so that they reach adulthood at a healthy weight. To do this, Let's Move is pushing what they call the four pillars of health: Getting children more interested in nutrition, making healthy foods more affordable and accessible for families, improving the quality of food in schools, and increasing physical activity.

So how will Let's Move accomplish this?

For one, they are changing what schools feed children. Many school districts have agreed to reduce the sugar, fat, and salt content in school meals, while increasing the amount of fresh fruit and whole grains. The school lunchroom is where American kids consume more than half of their daily calories, so this is a good start.

Let's Move aims to increase opportunities for kids to be physically active, both in and out of school. This is crucial as children need 60 minutes each day of moderate to vigorous activity to grow up to a healthy weight. If 60 minutes sounds like a lot, consider the fact that most kids 8 to 18 year olds spend an average of 7.5 hours a day in front of a TV, a computer, or playing video games.

Another part of her plan is to require that the food industry put easy to read labels on the front of food packages so parents can clearly see what the nutritional value is for the foods they are purchasing. Right now they are specifically targeting soft drink companies who will soon be required to label bottles and cans so that they show how many calories each soft drink contains. Again, a good start, as the average soda has 140 calories and most American children drink more than one a day.

Finally, the program will provide financing for grocery stores, small retailers, corner stores, and farmers markets so they can sell healthy foods in underserved areas. This is probably the best idea because most low-income or rural neighborhoods are more than a mile away from a supermarket which limits access to affordable, high quality, nutritious foods. Generally, kids in these neighborhoods eat what are known as "food deserts," foods that have more empty calories than nutrition.

Clearly these are all steps in the right direction because something needs to be done about the "growing" obesity epidemic. If we do not change; 1/3 of all children born after 2000 will develop diabetes during their lifetime, or they will face other chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma. Sounds like fun...

Mrs. Obama is an influential woman and Let's Move may help encourage kids to embrace a healthy lifestyle. But the reality is that change starts at home, with the parents... I know. You're busy. But, if we do nothing, we will be the first generation of parents to outlive our kids. Tragic, but your choice.

Stacy Matson, a health enthusiast from Southern California, regularly blogs on Celebrity Health for A Healthier World, as well as contributing to the Best of the Best.

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