Child Obesity Initiative

Last month, First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move, a joint initiative of the White House and other government agencies that aims to reduce the rate of childhood obesity in the United States. (A video of Obama explaining the program can be viewed on its Web site.) The rate of childhood obesity has tripled in the last 30 years, with almost a third of children now classified as overweight or obese. As The New York Times explains, Obama has been working on the plan for almost a year, consulting experts in nutrition, exercise, education, and government to determine the most effective strategy. Parts of the program include an agreement by the country’s three largest school lunch providers to reduce fat and sugar in their meals, as well as television ads in which professional athletes will promote “60 Minutes of Play a Day.” The program will provide, through the Web and other venues, resources to parents on healthy eating, cooking, and living. It will also encourage voluntary participation of schools in food and exercise programs.

One thing the program does not emphasize, however, is the individual behavior of parents or children. According to the Times article, Obama and her aides determined that such a strategy could backfire by coming across as scolding, and that the effort should focus instead on changing how environmental factors affect children’s food choices and physical activity. Not everyone agrees with this omission, of course; a “Patient Money” column in the Times Health section a few days later emphasizes the responsibility parents have — and the negligence they can display — in looking after their children’s weight, as well as the financial and health benefits of fostering a healthy household.

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This initiative is being launched just as a new study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, describes the lasting effects of obesity within certain American Indian children. Obesity in childhood, with an average age of about 11, was associated with more than twice the rate of death before the age of 55. High blood pressure and impaired glucose tolerance, or prediabetes, in childhood were also associated with premature death (none of the children in the study had full-blown diabetes).

What do you think — is Michelle Obama’s plan a worthwhile endeavor? Should it take a harder line on parental responsibility for childhood obesity? Or could it, as some people worry, have the unintended effect of stigmatizing overweight children? Should the government go even further, mandating the removal of soft drinks and unhealthy snacks from schools (as many school districts have already done)? Leave a comment below!

  • Diane

    The government needs to stay out of our lives. It should protect us from out side enemies and not be the big brother it is. People need to take responsibility for themselves, the role of government should be to educate but leave the rest to the people. We can not be all things to all people.

  • Jonathan

    Is the plan worthwhile? Yes.

    Your article raises an interesting point on their methodology, but I don’t think anyone can debate the need for initiatives to deal with childhood obesity.

    Personally, I think the campaign takes a savvy approach by focusing on the environmental factors. They do are subtle in promoting behavior change, without reaching an authoritarian tone.

    The name suggests behavior change – “Let’s Move” – moving being the behavior change. The motto “60 minutes of play a day”, again a behavior change.

    Bottom line – the campaign is bringing great attention to the problem of childhood obesity. Articles like this help to fill the gap with constructive dialogue and debate, as to the role parents should play in childhood nutritional choices.

    (As a side note, trying to change the behavior of a negligent parent would seem quite a difficult challenge – precisely because they’re negligent to begin with. So, wouldn’t any such effort be largely ignored?)

    Thanks for leading the conversation.

  • Jean F.

    While I don’t like having the government involved in trying to change our private lives, I think it is important for some people with influence to give children the incentive to eat right and exercise on a daily basis.

    As far as the involvement of parents is concerned, many children are obese because the parents are also obese and sedentary. The parents either don’t know how to provide food that is low in calories and high in nutrition or they don’t want to spend the time and effort to provide it. When parents are educated and incentivized to be more active and eat properly, their children will also do so.

  • GARRY FELTON

    I FOR ONE THINK IT SHOULD BE THE PARENTS RESPONSIABLE IF A CHILD IS OVER WEIGHT FOR REASONS OTHER THAN A MEDICAL PROBLEM — SENSE WE ARE GONE FOR RENEWED REVISED HEALTH CARE WE NEED FOR SOME ONE TO TAKE CHARGE OF OUR CHILDREN WELFARE — TAKE ALL UNHEALTHY STUFF OUT OF THE SCHOOLS —DO WHAT EVER IT TAKES TO CHANGE THE PROBLEM — OUR CHILDREN AND THIS COUNTRY HAS TO HAVE IT

  • Nadine Caldwell

    Having checked out the school lunch menus at our local elementary school, I was shocked by how much junk these kids eat: nachos with cheese and chicken nuggets and the list goes on.

    The schools follow the USDA guidelines for food for kids (these guidelines are ludicrous – you have to have two bread products at each meal, or something constituting a starch). Since Michelle is married to the President, she needs to tell him that he needs to look at changing these guidelines.

    I think the show that Jamie Oliver, the chef from England who is trying to change one city’s habits about eating the wrong food (the unhealthiest community in America, Huntington,WV)
    will do more than she can ever do.

    I am a member of a LiveWell community and we are doing our best to get everyone to change their eating habits. I know it is hard because I had to have that rude awakening to see I was killing myself eating junk and processed food. So I lost 90 lbs over 5 years and exercise 3 hours a week. I am now trying to help others to do something but it isn’t easy because they really like that type of food because it tastes good!!

  • Ellen Sherman

    Promoting a healthy lifestyle is my passion. It takes a partnership within the family to develop a home where the food that rests on your plates are small portions of healthy protein and loaded with colorful greens. Go through your cupboards and throw out all the unhealthy snacks and foods laden with transfats, fructose and unhealthy carbs. Plant healthy vegetables together in your garden when the weather gets warm. In addition, take walks together as a family–hiking through our beautiful parklands. Go bike riding. Eliminate negative comments about your child’s body and instead promote positive self-images. A healthy mind and body go together in promoting a successful personal and professional life. Teach your children to respect the bodies they were given by respecting your own. Good luck America.

  • Annette

    I believe it was wise for the First Lady to address the children’s obesity issue with only what the government (federal and state) have direct control over. The school food programs are horrible and the lack of exercise before, during and after-school has also decreased as the children’s weight increased.
    We started bussing most of the kids to school. We need to let children walk to school and play outside without fear of abduction. All of these can be supported by the fed/state gov’t.
    Going into the children’s home is a territory even teacher’s dread. That is too personal but obviously we can provide guidance on TV time, healthy snacks, etc.