Let’s Move: Michelle Obama’s new plan to end obesity

The Obama Administration’s new childhood health campaign, “Let’s Move,” has just one goal:

“To solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation.”

Ambitious? Yes. Impossible? Maybe not. Let’s take a look at the plan’s specific objectives:

1) Parental support. As letsmove.gov notes, parents “play a key role in making healthy choices for their children.” “Let’s Move” plans to build a supportive community for parents that includes an updated food pyramid and a new Food Environment Atlas, an online database that “maps components of healthy food environments down to the local level across the country . . . [allowing searchers to] identify the existence of food deserts, high incidences of diabetes, and other conditions in their communities.”

The Food Environment Atlas sounds like a great resource, but two additional initiatives are generating more buzz:

  • Revising food labels. The FDA is currently collecting research and “conducting dialogue” with food and beverage industry bigwigs. The American Beverage Association is already in the process of complying with the FDA’s request for clearer labeling on packaging, vending machines, and soda fountains (from Packaging Digest: “America’s non-alcoholic beverage companies are coming together to make the calories in their products even more clear and consumer-friendly.”) All non-alcoholic beverages sold in the U.S. will meet these labeling requirements by 2012.
  • Measuring BMI. The American Academy of Pediatrics is asking doctors and nurses across the country to  measure Body Mass Index in children regularly (never mind substantial research that indicates BMI may be a false measure of health).

2) Healthier food in schools. The Administration plans to double the number of schools participating in the model “Healthier US Schools Challenge Program.” Schools that participate receive additional educational and technical assistance in order to meet specific goals in food quality, meal program participation, physical activity, and nutrition education.

The main change here, however, is the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which is up in September 2010. The Obama Administration has proposed significant additional updates to the Act, including a budget increase of $1 billion per year for the next ten years “to improve the quality of school meals, increase the number of kids participating, and make sure schools have the resources they need to make changes.” A portion of this money will go to WIC programs, and advocates are requesting additional funding.

3) Encourage children to be more physically active. The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, which offers participating children a “Presidential Active Lifestyle Award,” plans to double the number of participating children in 2010-2011.

The Administration also plans to modernize the President’s Physical Fitness Challenge to encourage “60 minutes of active play” rather than a set number of push-ups and sit-ups. Additional toolkits and information will be unveiled later this spring.

4)  Make healthy, affordable food available, with the support of the U.S. Departments of Treasury, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services, through the Healthy Food Financing Initiative.

This Initative, part of the President’s proposed FY2011 budget, would invest $400 million each year “to provide innovative financing to bring grocery stores to underserved areas [food deserts] and help places such as convenience stores and bodegas carry healthier food options.”

“Let’s Move” is already getting quite a bit of support–and some criticism–from all sides of the political spectrum. What do you think?