In February 2010, Michelle Obama announced the Let’s Move initiative. Let’s Move’s objective is to end childhood obesity in the United States. At the launch of Let’s Move, Michelle Obama stated, “the physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.” In the past three decades, America’s childhood obesity rates have tripled. Statistics show that nearly one in three children are considered overweight or obese. Statisticians project that if steps are not taken to prevent obesity, then “one third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives.” Obese children run the risk of “heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma.”
Mrs. Obama’s initiative has been credited with increasing public awareness about obesity and support for government involvement in preventing obesity. A Pew Survey, in 2011, reported that most Americans believe that the government should work to reduce child obesity. Prior to 2011, many Americans opposed using federal funding to combat obesity. The Let’s Move initiative has also been linked to healthier school meals. In 2010, Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The Act increased federal funding for school meals in addition to giving the Agriculture Department the authority to decide the health standards for food available in the nation’s public school cafeterias and vending machines. The biggest accomplishment of the Act was that it created a streamlined process to establish whether a child is eligible for free or reduced meals, which in turn increased the number of children who qualified for healthy and nutritious meals.
Many food service companies have pledged to serve foods with government recommended levels of fats, sugars, and whole grains in support of Let’s Move. Small changes in school programs like the ones initiated by Mrs. Obama often have significant effects. A 2008 study, which compared ten schools in Philadelphia—half with high-sugar snacks and beverages and the other half with healthy options—showed that after two years, twice as many students at the school with no intervention became overweight. The Let’s Move campaign has propelled healthy eating changes nationwide.
Mrs. Obama’s efforts are truly laudable. Obesity is not only associated with negative personal effects but also with costs to the nation. Health care costs associated with obesity have been estimated at as high as $150 billon a year. Studies also show that obesity can result in a loss of productivity in the workplace and the capability of the military. Forty percent of the army’s applicants are obese and 50 percent of recruits are unable to pass the army’s basic fitness test. Promoting healthy eating on the elementary school level has to power to shape young people’s relationships with food early on and prepare children for healthy eating as adults.
The biggest critique of Mrs. Obama’s obesity agenda is that there has not been much progress in forcing big food companies to change their marketing to kids, who also still have access to junk food and sodas in schools. Even though Mrs. Obama’s Lets Move initiative has not solved the issue of our nation’s obesity epidemic, it has had positive tangible effects. The greatest contribution of Let’s Move is that the Obama Administration has set the stage for what the government can do later on in the area of food policy. The small strides that have been made by Mrs. Obama have put America on the right path to curbing childhood obesity and addressing the fact that we have a generation of children with shorter life expectancies than their parents. With continued government intervention, we will hopefully have a healthier nation in due time.