By: Jen Blackstock
Earlier this year, First Lady Michelle Obama announced an ambitious goal: to erase childhood obesity within a generation. If she is successful, the childhood obesity rate will be only 5 percent by 2030, down from the current rate of 32 percent. Ambitious? Yes. Impossible? Not according to her plan.
Obama has named the plan “Let’s Move!” The goal is to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity through a comprehensive approach that will engage every sector impacting the health of children. The program will provide schools, families, and communities with simple tools to help kids be more active, eat better, and get healthy.
When announcing the program, President Obama said, “The First Lady will lead a national public awareness effort to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity. She will encourage involvement by actors from every sector — the public, nonprofits, and private sectors, as well as parents and youth — to help support and amplify the work of the federal government in improving the health of our children.”
The nationwide Let’s Move! campaign includes initiatives that target what the First Lady calls four key pillars:
- Getting parents more informed about nutrition and exercise by educating them on caloric intake, healthy foods, portion sizes, and the dangers of excessive snacking, too much time in front of the TV, and not enough time playing outside.
- Improving the quality of food in schools by getting the fried food and junk food out of the cafeteria and bringing in more fresh, healthy options. The HealthierUS Schools Challenge Program establishes rigorous standards for school food quality, participation in meal programs, physical activity, and nutrition education–the key components that make for healthy and active kids – and provides recognition for schools that meet these standards.
- Making healthy foods more affordable and accessible for families, which includes making it simpler for parents to identify nutritious foods with easier-to-read labels on packaging. This also includes stressing the importance of eating together at a family meal and teaching kids (and sometimes adults) important eating structure.
- Focusing more on physical education both at home and at school by building in a few minutes of activity periodically during the day, which keeps energy flowing, and adding more physical activity into the school day. This might involve additional physical education classes, before and after school programs, recess, and opening school facilities for student and family recreation in the late afternoon and evening. Mayors and community leaders can promote physical fitness by working to increase safe routes for kids to walk and ride to school and by maintaining parks, playgrounds and community centers, and sports and fitness programs
Obama is first to recognize that this will not be an easy task. Educating families, schools, and communities will take some time. But the toughest task may be the ones closest to home–changing routines, especially in busy family life, to make room for healthy eating and more exercise. Between work, school, extracurriculars, shopping for food, and shuttling from place to place, it will be challenge to add battling obesity to the mix. But as the First Lady points out, she “doesn’t expect families to make drastic changes, only to balance indulgences with healthy options. I love burgers and fries, you know? And I love ice cream and cake. So do most kids. We’re not talking about a lifestyle that excludes all that. That’s the fun of being a kid. That’s the fun of being a human.”
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