First lady Michelle Obama is getting serious about child obesity. She announced her plan to reduce child obesity in America last week, saying, “It’s time we all had a wake up call.”
“Let’s Move” includes informing parents, improving access to healthier foods, and encouraging kids to exercise more. The plan aims to end child obesity within a generation.
"Rarely have we encountered a problem of this magnitude and consequence” that can be so readily solved, she said. Obesity is not like an intractable disease because we know the cure, said the first lady. The first step is informing parents so they have the information to make healthy choices for their children. She believes pediatricians have a role to play.
She spoke about her own family’s eating habits. As a working mother she sometimes chose the ease of fast or microwave foods. Mrs. Obama had her own wake up call when their pediatrician encouraged her to change her daughters’ diets. Changes she made in what and how much her daughters ate made a difference, she said. She says it is time our nation had a wake up call because children “should not be the ones calling the shots at dinnertime.”
Mrs. Obama emphasized that many groups can play a role in fighting child obesity. Pediatricians and food industry groups have signed on. Leaders, like Mayor Chip Johnson of Hernando, Miss. spoke at the announcement.
Johnson has promoted health in his community. In Hernando, he has worked to establish farmer’s markets, community gardens, a youth basketball league, and a youth soccer league. The town is installing walking paths, and requires new developments to install sidewalks. Mayor Johnson said he recognizes health is a personal decision, “What we have to do is create an atmosphere and an opportunity for good health.”
The second goal is to improve the quality of school lunches.
School food suppliers Sodexho, Chartwells School Dining Services, and Aramark set a 10-year goal to reduce the sugar, fat, and salt in school lunches; to increase whole grains; and double the produce served to students.
According to the plan, the administration is requesting $10 billion over 10 years through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act. The money would go to improving the National School Lunch and Breakfast program. The money would enable schools to serve more students, do more training of school food service workers, and upgrade kitchen equipment. According to the plan, school cafeterias will serve more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.
Nutritionist Kathryn Strong of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) said she will be glad to see $1 billion per year go to school lunches. But the funds, she said, will go to several aspects of lunch programs and it’s not likely to make a big difference in the quality of what schools serve students.
One of the things she said the government can do to encourage parents and schools to make healthier food choices is to cut subsidies to the meat and dairy industries. Subsidies make high-fat meats and cheeses cheaper, making them more likely to make up a bigger part of what cafeterias serve, she said. The PCRM advocates for more plant-based options being served in school cafeterias and generally advocates the vegetarian diet.
Elizabeth Kucinich, director of Public Affairs at PCRM, agreed it is important to “incentive healthy foods.” She said that for some low income students, the school meal is the main meal of the day and the quality of that meal should be considered. “What is the cost to the nation if we don’t [consider it]?” she said, referring to the cost of caring for obesity-related illnesses that can develop from poor nutrition.