Michelle Obama, First Lady since January 2009, is using her tenure wisely. She began speaking in a White House garden and launched the “Let’s Move” campaign — with a mission to end childhood obesity in America in a generation. Achieving that all children reach adulthood of normal weight is not a modest goal but requires continuous, comprehensive action by all sectors of society. To that end, Let’s Move reaches out to parents, children, elected officials, schools, community leaders, and healthcare providers – every sector of society – to ensure everyone is playing their part.
Education on childhood obesity
Before anyone is motivated to act, they must understand that there is a reason for it. The first way Mrs. Obama’s campaign is targeting apathy is simply to educate the public about the desperate situation we find ourselves in. Consider these alarming statistics:
In the last 30 years, the number of obese children in America has tripled, so that today 1 in 3 minors are overweight (too much weight for size) or obese (too much body fat for size), and indeed 1 in 3 Americans . It’s estimated that Americans are consuming nearly a third more calories today per day than 1960, including alarming amounts of fats and sugars. Such a drastic change cannot help but harm the body. It is known that the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, asthma and many other diseases increases with obesity.
We can no longer pretend that this is an individual problem. With an obesity epidemic among our children, we must all take responsibility for creating a healthier environment. But instead of letting that responsibility overwhelm you, the Let’s Move campaign presents clear, achievable steps to enable a healthy future.
Start eating healthy
After raising awareness of the problem, the Let’s Move campaign informs the public about the solution. The first step to a healthier lifestyle is proper nutrition. The troubling trends of the last few decades stem from radical differences in how we eat and what we eat. Not only are portion sizes out of control, but people are often unaware of the quality (or poor quality) of the food they eat. In short, people don’t know what’s good for them. And if adults aren’t informed, children are even less informed. However, information is now more readily available than ever and it is the responsibility of parents and carers to educate themselves and pass that information on to the next generation.
The Food and Drug Administration, the government agency that regulates the food industry, requires most convenience food (canned, carton, bagged) retailers to label their products with the nutrition label, which lists serving size, calorie 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-pack labeling that allows consumers to choose even more healthy foods making decisions easy.
While labels help families be better informed about the foods they consume at home, the fact is that most people eat a large percentage of their food outside of the home. Whether it’s from restaurants, schools, takeaways, or vending machines, many foods aren’t packaged with reliable information. But that’s no longer an excuse. The US Department of Agriculture website provides clear and comprehensive information on the new food pyramid (updated from the old grains-on-the-soil model that adults may be familiar with), which outlines the components of a balanced meal day. Unlike the old version, the food pyramid 2.0 takes into account the importance of exercise and redistributes the servings per day for each food category. This website and hundreds of others providing information about quality foods empower all Americans to make healthy choices.
In addition to educating children and families about proper nutrition, the Let’s Move campaign aims to make a real difference by helping schools lead the way. With school budgets tight across the country, more and more junk food has found its way into the public school system and into our children’s bodies, generally because it’s cheap, convenient, and durable. However, given the long-term costs of obesity (higher healthcare costs), cutting back in childhood is no longer a viable option. School administrators and parents need to get involved and change school choices so that children learn better while they are in school and live better when they are not.
make people active
Americans not only need to learn what they put in their bodies, they also need to learn how to use their bodies to keep them in tip-top shape. The USDA requires that children and adolescents should be physically active for 60 minutes a day, while adults should be physically active for at least 30 minutes on a regular basis. Most Americans don’t meet these standards, and for some, they seem unattainable. However, getting enough exercise in a day is just a matter of priorities. The average American child (8-18) spends 7.5 hours DAILY on entertainment media. The Let’s Move campaign wants to change that by activating families, schools and communities.
Every family’s schedule and lifestyle is different, so building more activity will look different in each case. For a family, it can be a decision to walk to any place less than a mile from home; on the other hand, it could be a family tradition of the square in the driveway. Opportunities to be active can be fun and strengthen family ties. Do morning jumping jacks in your pajamas, dance around the kitchen to your favorite tunes, bike to the park or see who can swing higher on the swing set. Children love to be active and they love it even more when they can spend time with their parents. But even if you can’t get the kid off a screen, entertainment media also has plenty of active options. Nintendo’s Wii Fit or the popular Dance Dance Revolution or even simple YouTube videos like Practice with Daniel can wake kids up and get active without them even knowing it.
Of course, a large proportion of children’s days are spent at school, so schools also have a responsibility to build physical activity into the curriculum and educate students about its importance. Making physical education a priority, scheduling time for breaks, expanding and supporting extracurricular sports, and even incorporating physical activity into the academic curriculum are all ways schools can help students be their healthiest selves. Every day there is more research demonstrating the benefits of exercise for learning – a healthy body makes a healthy brain.
Communities can encourage citizens to lead healthy lives by building infrastructure to support it. Bike lanes, parks, safe routes to and from schools, activity centers and youth programs make exercise convenient and attractive. Initiatives that make team membership cheaper, offer scholarships to get involved in sport, or educate underprivileged students about opportunities in the area can all have a positive impact on children’s lives.
Help people get active
Because change can be overwhelming, let’s go has outlined “5 Simple Steps to Success” for any group it wants to educate: parents, children, elected officials, schools, community leaders, health care providers and even chefs.
For example, the five steps for chefs are as follows:
1) Join the Chefs Move to Schools initiative. This move encourages chefs to “adopt” a school and work in it to educate students, families and administrators about nutritious options and exciting new foods. The Let’s Move website helps chefs find schools (and school chefs) with an interactive, searchable map.
2) Participate in the HealthierUS School Challenge. Once a school is adopted, chefs can help schools apply to become a HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSCC) school by meeting various criteria. The USDA: Food and Nutrition Services website describes the incentives offered to schools that meet the requirements.
3) Find out about nutrition programs for children. To be successful in adopting a school, cooks can learn about current child nutrition programs and evaluate what can be improved.
4) Prepare for class. When a chef comes next to a school, he needs to ask good questions about what the school’s goals are and what their current production is. where does the food come from What 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 makes them up himself, sharing ideas across the country can only help us build healthier schools, faster.
bring people together
Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign sounds like a great idea. But that’s all it will ever be if Americans don’t take it personally and seriously. In order for this to become a movement and not just a motto, there are clear ways to get involved. In addition to following the action steps on the Action Steps page, each citizen is invited to take on the Let’s Move pledge and receive email updates, attend a regional-level Let’s Move meetup to plan activities and strategize locally, and joining the Partnership for a Healthier America focuses on mobilizing leaders across sectors to lead the way to health. Anyone can also join the conversation on Facebook
The Let’s Move campaign is a call to action on childhood obesity that cannot be ignored. In the words of the promise
“We believe that every child has the right to a healthy childhood. We cannot allow this to 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 classy, it’s a necessity. It’s not just a slogan, it’s our responsibility.”
Thanks to Austin Brawner