Is Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" Plan Enough?Posted on Feb 23rd 2010 12:00PM by Bev Sklar
Today's kids may have a new superhero -- Michelle Obama. Her recently announced initiative against childhood obesity aligns perfectly with the First Lady's super-fit persona cloaked in a White House cape. She's out campaigning for Let's Move, a multi-prong plan to attack childhood obesity within a generation. But is Mrs. Obama's action plan strong enough to stop the rising childhood obesity rates that now affect nearly one in three American children?
This past weekend Mrs. Obama presented her four-pillar Let's Move plan to the National Governor's Association -- an audience that can make a major state-by-state difference. In her speech, she recalled a time of balance when fast foods and dessert were treats, not the norm. She spoke of the days when three pints of ice cream would last her family of four a week. Today a family of four sees three pints of ice cream in the freezer and thinks they're short one. Who needs pints, anyway, when two-for-one half-gallons are on sale? "But somewhere along the line, we kind of lost that sense of perspective and moderation," said Mrs. Obama.
We nod our heads. She makes perfect sense at first. Our eating and exercise habits are completely out of whack. Backing up her wisdom is the four-pronged Let's Move: healthy choices, healthier schools, physical activity and accessible and affordable food. Actionable items include front-of-package labeling and doctors regularly measuring children's body mass index, since BMI is one indicator skipped by many pediatric practitioners (just ask "The Biggest Loser's Kristin Steede).
For healthier schools, the First Lady cites reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act calling for a federal spending increase of $1 billion more a year for 10 years, as well as adherence to the Institute of Medicine's nutrition standards within several years. She also talks about the new Healthy Food Financing Initiative to bring full-service grocery stores to neighborhoods subsisting primarily on Hot Pockets at the corner convenience store. Then there's the standard advice so many fail to grasp -- we must move more.
Kelly Brownell, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, told the "Los Angeles Times" that Let's Move is a "breakthrough," and with building support at state and local levels, it's a signal "profound change is on the way."
But not everyone's nodding their head up and down. There is a lot of debate over whether BMI is even the best measurement for obesity. And, with an ever-expanding deficit, the promise of dollars and the delivery are two different issues, even if the call comes from the White House.
That's Fit spoke with child nutrition advocate Chef Ann Cooper, aka renegade lunch lady and interim food services director at Boulder Valley School District, and she sees holes in the plan. "From a macro view, I really support what the First Lady is doing," said Cooper. "However when you read through the whole thing there's no policy and no money ... [Let's Move] doesn't really mandate anything or give us any funding to do anything."
And don't be too excited at the $1 billion for child nutrition. Cooper noted that the money will most likely be split between National School Lunch Program and WIC [Women, Infants and Children]. If it is split evenly, $500 million would only amount to an extra 10 cents per lunch for the estimated 5.4 billion lunches NSLP serves annually.
"A Colorado apple on the plate costs me 25 cents," said Cooper. "We can't fix the system on what amounts to half an apple." Cooper thinks funding needs to go much further. She's asking everyone to join her on a national letter-writing tear for one more dollar for healthy school food. "So if the First Lady has this big plan ... and the people with the purse strings only have a dime, then what is that?" said Cooper. "It's not okay."
Lack of funding isn't her only complaint. Cooper said Let's Move doesn't mention anything about the blanket of non-nutritious food advertising to kids, and is highly critical of a five-year timeline to incorporate the Institute of Medicine standards to improve school meals, which Cooper said basically doubles fruits and veggies and puts a ceiling on calories and sodium. "The idea that we're going to applaud these big companies to become compliant in five years is unconscionable," she said. "That means kids in middle school now are going to be out of high school by the time the guidelines are in place."
Cooper said Brownell's "breakthrough" is premature. "It's a great grassroots campaign," said Cooper. "I love what the first lady is doing. But until we have funding and legislation, there's no breakthrough and no change."
Yet the First Lady is a believer that Americans, with a nationwide push by Let's Move, can make the changes necessary to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation. She cites Govenor Mike Huckabee's accomplishments in Arkansas that began in 2003. "They got healthier food into their schools and required regular physical education classes," said Mrs. Obama as reported by ABC News. "And as a result, that state was able to halt the rise of childhood obesity completely."
Will Let's Move's grassroots platform reach breakthrough status? Only time and the scale will tell. In the meantime, not all eating habits are set in the school -- family meals and family activities are even more important in setting children up for a healthy lifestyle. Govern your own active family time, brown bag nutritious lunches for your kids and eat around the dinner table together five times a week whenever possible, with desserts the exception, not the rule. Those are the behaviors that will help turn the tide, funding or not.
Tell us what you think in the comments section below. Is Michelle Obama's plan enough to halt the obesity epidemic?
Read on to learn about Ricki Lake's new Internet-based weight loss program for kids called AllStride.