With his plate full (no pun intended) dealing with America’s unemployment and health care reform, the President has turned over a critical issue in American life to his wife, Michelle. In a program dubbed “Let’s Move!”, the First Lady is attempting to deal with the serious health issue of obesity at it’s origins – in early childhood. Her web-site, letsmove.gov, alerts those interested of critical factors about childhood obesity and how best to reduce and eliminate it. Her “Let’s Move!” web-site informs the reader that being over weight affects a third of our children and, as a nation, we “spend $150 billion every year to treat obesity-related conditions. Obesity rates tripled in the past 30 years, a trend that means, for the first time in our history, American children may face a shorter expected lifespan than their parents.”
Michelle and President Obama’s goal is to reduce this threat by aligning parents, educators and health providers to focus on bringing obesity rates down within the next generation. A daunting task where over half the adults are considered to be obese, serving as poor role models and where there’s a fast food eatery on every corner. Eric Schlosser, author of “Fast Food Nation”, notes in his book that “people eat more food outside the home, they consume more calories, less fiber, and more fat.” Ironically, the “Let’s Move!” web-site points out, a “recent USDA report showed that in 2008, an estimated 49.1 million people, including 16.7 million children, lived in households that experienced hunger multiple times throughout the year.”
Access to and eating healthy foods is one of the key factors Ms. Obama is bringing attention to, according to Dan Shapely at the The Daily Green: The Consumer’s Guide to the Green Revolution – (9/28/09). Her organic White House garden has encouraged kids to not only eat healthy fresh fruits and vegetables but the first lady’s efforts with the USDA to increase community awareness about planting such gardens educates kids and their families about producing a source of nutrition in their own back yards and save money on what would other wise be a grocery expense for tight household budgets in these hard times.
The President has collaborated with his wife in her endeavor by creating a new program – the Healthy Food Financing Initiative. This effort will seek to bring the U.S. Departments of Treasury, Agriculture and Health and Human Services together with a budget of $400 million, and we’re told by the “Let’s Move!” web-site link entitled “Accessing Healthy & Affordable Food” that this will “provide innovative financing … [bringing] grocery stores to underserved areas and help places such as convenience stores and bodegas (ethnic mini-markets) carry healthier food options. Grants will also help bring farmers markets and fresh foods into underserved communities, boosting both family health and local economies.”
White House efforts that aid this program include updating the Child Nutrition Act with an “increase in the federal budget of $1 billion per year for the next ten years to improve the quality of school meals, increase the number of kids participating, and make sure schools have the resources they need to make changes.” This initiative also works in conjunction with the First Lady’s effort to address school lunches. Many children receive over half of their caloric intake at schools and “Let’s Move!” efforts are targeting school lunch programs to meet nutritional needs for all children. The “Let’s Move!” program offers information to schools across the nation to learn “about the range of educational and technical assistance materials that promote key aspects of the Dietary Guidelines, including a Menu Planner for Healthy School Meals, which provides tips on serving more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and lower amounts of sugar, sodium, and saturated and trans-fats in school menus.”
The third leg of this campaign to reduce childhood obesity is to promote physical activities that takes children out of their lethargic settings and build up and tone muscle fat that have already developed with kids at elementary school levels. A report in a study by researchers at the University at Buffalo, Johns Hopkins University (Crespo, 2001) found that obesity in children increases the more hours they watch television. Outdoor activities with children have significantly diminished with the advent of computers and increased children’s television programs. The term “couch potato” applies as much to young children as it does to their adult counterpart just a generation ago. In an era where Physical Education classes are being cut to accommodate tight school budgets, the President and the First lady are attempting to recreate the physical fitness programs reminiscent of the JFK White House years.
Following the lead of Executive Order 13265, signed by President Bush in 2002, an extension of President Eisenhower’s Council on Youth Fitness Executive Order 10673, issued on July 16, 1956, President Obama’s hopes to challenge the youth of America by expanding national interest in and awareness of the benefits of physical activities, including organized sports; stimulate and enhance coordination of such programs in the public and private sector; make quality information available and “integrate physical activity into a broader health promotion and disease prevention effort”.
Combined, the efforts to provide nutritional foods to a larger segment of the nations youth with promotional efforts to re-invent the wheel and make physical activities attractive once more, the President and the First Lady are engaging in efforts that, if successful, will promote a better quality of life for future generations and in so doing, reduce health care costs across the board.