by Heidi Green
May 17, 2010
Let’s Move! is the rallying cry of the new nationwide campaign to address childhood obesity. Launched in February 2010 and spearheaded by first lady Michelle Obama, this campaign aims to “eliminate the problem of childhood obesity in a single generation.” It’s an ambitious goal, considering that over just the last few decades, childhood obesity rates have more than tripled, increasing from 5 percent in 1980 to 17 percent in 2008. Currently, almost one in three children is overweight or obese.
Although its name emphasizes activity, Mrs. Obama notes that the campaign relies on a multi-faceted approach where attention to food may even exceed that given to activity. The campaign is centered around four core goals:
Accomplishing these goals will require a great deal of help from federal government agencies, state and local leaders, private companies, and the public sector. Help shouldn’t be hard to find; a wide variety of entities—ranging from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to the No Child Left Inside coalition to the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) recognize the problem. One group has even called it “a threat to national security.”
What’s more, Let’s Move! has a ready-made collaborator in the Partnership for a Healthier America, a foundation launched for the purpose of “support[ing] the First Lady’s cause [of fighting childhood obesity] by encouraging, tracking, and communicating commitments to healthier lifestyles from partner organizations.”
Let’s Move! in action
In February, President Obama signed a memorandum creating a Task Force on Childhood Obesity to include representatives from the Department of Interior (DOI), Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Department of Education, Office of the First Lady, and other agencies. The Task Force conducted a review of all programs and policies related to child nutrition and physical activity to “develop a national action plan that maximizes federal resources and sets concrete benchmarks towards the First Lady’s national goal.”
To think, this is just a start! Imagine what we’ll see when the campaign really gets moving.
Concerns about Let’s Move!
Although everyone supports good health, some have voiced concerns about the program.
Most notably, the campaign has been criticized for its emphasis on obesity. Some critics say the campaign essentially places a target on fat kids. As Deb Burgard, one of the founders of the “Health at Every Size (HAES)” model for treating weight and eating concerns, writes on her blog, these critics feel that “the initiative is framed as a way to eliminate the fat kids.” Writing candidly in Newsweek about her lifelong struggles with weight, food, and physical activity, Lesley Kinzel agrees that the emphasis of the campaign ought to be on healthy eating and regular exercise which, together, “work to make a body—any body—feel good, even if they don’t result in weight loss.” Similarly, CNN reporter Claudia Garza revealed obesity-related bullying she suffered from her own parents, and experts agree such incidents are not uncommon. These concerns seem to be supported by a recent article in the New York Times in which Gretchen Reynolds notes that the connection between exercise and weight loss is a complicated one, particularly for women. Furthermore, Dr. Regina Benjamin, Surgeon General of the United States, chooses to emphasize a positive approach to the topic. Her first paper in her role as U.S. Surgeon General is entitled not “The Surgeon General’s Vision for an America with No Childhood Obesity,” but rather “The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation.” Referring to childhood obesity at a recent health conference, she noted that she focuses on the “positives” of “health and fitness” rather than the “negatives” of “illness and obesity.”
Finally, Megan McConville, urban planner and blogger on TheCityFix.com, notes that the campaign seems to lack urban planning and design considerations. Targeted active community design strategies can make big differences in children’s ability to walk or bike to school safely, community members’ ability to engage in urban farming, residents’ ability to access grocery stores selling healthy foods via public transportation, and children’s access to available open play space.
Tips for parents
As parents, we don’t need to wait for the Task Force to decide on a national plan before we take action in our own homes to ensure our own children’s health. Here’s what we can do today:
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