Michelle Obama, First Lady since January 2009, has been putting her time in office to good use. Starting with conversations over a White House garden, she has launched the Let’s Move campaign — taking on the mission of ending childhood obesity in America in one generation. Hardly a modest goal, having all children reach adulthood at a normal weight will take continued, comprehensive action by all sectors of society. To that end, Let’s Move addresses parents, children, elected officials, schools, community leaders, and health care providers – every branch of society – to ensure that everyone is doing their part.
Educating about Childhood Obesity
Before anyone will be motivated to take action, they need to understand that there is a reason to do so. The first way Ms. Obama’s campaign targets apathy is simply educating the public about the desperate place we are in. Consider these alarming statistics:
The past 30 years have seen a tripling in obese children in America, such that today 1 in 3 minors are overweight (too much weight for height) or obese (too much body fat for height), and, in fact, 1 in 3 Americans. It is estimated that Americans today eat nearly a third more calories per day than they did in 1960, including alarming amounts of fats and sugars. Such a drastic change can’t help but damage the body. The risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, asthma, and many other conditions is known to increase with obesity.
We can no longer pretend this is an individual issue. With an epidemic of obesity among our children, we all need to take responsibility for creating a healthier environment. But instead of being overwhelmed by that responsibility, the Let’s Move campaign presents clear, achievable steps to make a healthy future possible.
Start Eating Healthy
After educating about the problem, the Let’s Move campaign educates the public on the solution. The first step in a healthier lifestyle is figuring out how to eat correctly. The disturbing trends of the last decades stem from radical differences in how we eat and what we eat. Not only are portion sizes out of control, but people are also often ignorant of the quality (or poor quality) of the food they are eating. In short, people don’t know what is good for them. And if adults aren’t informed, children are even less so. However, information is now more available than ever and it is the parents’ and caregivers’ responsibility to get informed and pass that information on to the next generation.
The Food and Drug Administration, the government agency that regulates the food industry, requires most prepared food distributors (canned, boxed, bagged) to label their products with the nutritional information label that lists serving size, caloric content, and a wealth of other information. In 2009, Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg announced some new initiatives for the FDA, including sending warning letters to companies that misrepresent their products and working with the food industry to introduce front-of-package labeling that will allow consumers to make healthy choices even more easily.
While labels help families be more informed about the food they consume at home, the fact of the matter is most people eat a large percentage of food outside the house. Whether from restaurants, schools, snack shops, or vending machines, a lot of food does not come packaged with reliable information. But that is no longer an excuse. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website provides clear and comprehensive information on the new Food Pyramid (updated from the old grains-on-the-bottom model adults may be familiar with), which outlines the components of a balanced day of meals. Unlike the old version, Food Pyramid 2.0 includes the importance of exercise and re-apportions the servings per day for each category of food. That website and hundreds of others that provide information on quality food put making healthy choices well within the reach of all Americans.
Along with educating kids and families on how to eat right, the Let’s Move campaign aims to make a tangible difference by helping schools lead the way. With school budgets tight across the nation, more and more junk food has made its way into the public school system and our children’s bodies, generally because it is cheap, convenient, and long-lasting. However, when the long-term costs of obesity are factored in (higher health care costs), cutting corners during childhood is no longer a viable option. School administrators and parents need to get involved and change the choices in schools so kids can learn better while they’re in school and live better while they’re not.
Getting People Active
Along with learning what to put into our bodies, Americans need to learn how to use their bodies to keep them in top form. The USDA claims children and teenagers should get 60 minutes of physical activity daily, while adults should have at least 30 on a regular basis. Most Americans are not living up to those standards, and to some they seem unreachable. However, getting ample exercise into a day is only a matter of priorities. The average American child (8-18) spends 7.5 hours DAILY on entertainment media. The Let’s Move campaign means to change that by activating families, schools, and communities.
Each family’s schedule and lifestyle are different, so building in more activity will look different in each case. For one family it may be deciding to walk to any place that’s less than a mile from home; for another, it might be a family tradition of four-square in the driveway. Opportunities to be active can become fun and build family togetherness. Do jumping jacks in the morning in your PJs, dance around the kitchen to your favorite songs, bike to the park, or see who can swing higher on the swings. Kids love being active, and they love it even more if they get to spend quality time with their parents. But even if you can’t get the kid away from a screen, entertainment media has plenty of active options as well. Nintendo’s Wii Fit, or the popular Dance Dance Revolution, or even simple YouTube videos like Exercise with Daniel can get children up and active without their even knowing it.
Of course, much of children’s days are spent at school, so schools are also responsible for building movement into the schedule, along with educating students on its importance. Making physical education a priority, allowing time for recess, extending and supporting after-school sports, and even incorporating physicality in the academic curriculum are all ways schools can help students be their healthiest selves. There is more research every day that establishes the benefit of movement on learning — a healthy body makes a healthy brain.
Communities can encourage citizens to live healthy lives by building an infrastructure that supports it. Bike paths, parks, safe routes to and from schools, activity centers, and youth programs make exercise convenient and attractive. Initiatives that make membership on teams cheaper, offer scholarships for athletic involvement, or educate disadvantaged students on opportunities in the area can all have positive impacts on children’s lives.
Helping People Take Action
Because change can be overwhelming, Let’s Move has outlined ” 5 Simple Steps to Success ” for every group it seeks to educate: parents, children, elected officials, schools, community leaders, health care providers, and even chefs.
For example, the five steps for chefs are the following:
1) Join Chefs Move to Schools initiative. This step encourages chefs to “adopt” a school and work within it to educate students, families, and administrators about nutritious options and exciting new foods. The Let’s Move website helps chefs find schools (and schools chefs) with an interactive searchable map.
2) Take on the HealthierUS School Challenge. Once a school has been adopted, chefs can help schools apply to be a HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSCC) School by meeting various criteria. The USDA: Food and Nutrition Services site outlines the incentives offered to schools that meet the requirements.
3) Learn about child nutrition programs. In order to be effective in adopting a school, chefs can educate themselves about current child nutrition programs and evaluate what can be improved.
4) Prep for the classroom. In coming alongside a school, a chef needs to ask good questions about what the school’s goals are and what its current production is. Where is food coming from? What kind of equipment does the kitchen have? Does the menu need an overhaul?
5) Find recipes for success. Recipes for Success are innovative ideas that have worked well. Whether a chef gets them from somewhere else or thinks them up himself, sharing ideas across the country can only help us build healthier schools faster.
Joining People Together
Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign sounds like an amazing idea. But that is all it will ever be if Americans don’t take it personally and seriously. To ensure it becomes a movement and not just a motto, there are clear ways to get involved. Along with following the action steps on the action step page, every citizen is invited to take the Let’s Move pledge and get email updates, join a Let’s Move Meetup regionally to plan activities and strategize locally, and join the partnership for a healthier America, which focuses on mobilizing leadership across sectors to lead the way to health. Anyone can join the conversation on Facebook, as well
The Let’s Move campaign is a call to action against childhood obesity that cannot be ignored. In the words of the pledge,
“We believe every kid has the right to a healthy childhood. We can’t let this be the first generation in our history to grow up less healthy than their parents. The ingredients…better food + more activity…are clear. Let’s Move isn’t just noble, it’s a necessity. It’s not just a slogan, it’s our responsibility.”