by Marion Nestle
Feb 10 2010

Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity: Applause!

I had best comment on this before anyone asks.   First Lady Michelle Obama wants to do something about childhood obesity and has gone into action.  She announced her “Let’s Move” initiatives accompanied by much fanfare.  Check out:

This is big news.  I see much to admire here.  The campaign focuses on kids.  It is sensitive to political realities (it’s called the uncontroversial “Let’s Move,” not the inflammatory “Let’s Eat Less” or “Let’s Eat Better”).  It’s brought a large number of groups on board (the New York Times account emphasizes this point).  It aims to do something useful about school food and food “deserts” (areas without grocery stores).  And it derives directly and explicitly from the White House garden.

I wasn’t able to watch the press conference but I hear that Will Allen was an invited speaker.  Allen is the charismatic and highly effective head of Growing Power, which runs urban farms in Milwaukee and Chicago.  I’m told he said:

  • It’s a social justice issue.
  • Every child in this country should have access to good food.
  • We have to grow farmers.


Before the announcement, Marian Burros wrote in about the barriers this effort will face (I’m quoted in her article).   And the Los Angeles Times discussed the enormous and enormously successful lobbying effort undertaken by the soft drink industry against soda taxes.  It predicted that the First Lady would not mention soda taxes when she announced her obesity campaign.  Indeed, she did not.

But she did say:

The truth is our kids didn’t do this to themselves.  Our kids didn’t choose to make food products with tons of fat and sugar and supersize portions, and then to have those foods marketed to them wherever they turn.

So let’s call this campaign a good first step and give it a big round of applause.  I hoping everyone will give it a chance, help move it forward in every way possible, and keep fingers crossed that Mrs. Obama can pull it off.

  • Anthr

    I just have to tell you that I am a huge fan of Will Allen and chat with him now and then when I’m at Growing Power. He is such an amazing guy with such a simple, yet profound vision. He gave me some worms to start my worm bin and took me on a tour the first time I was there. I had no idea about his sports background or how extensive his work would become.

    I am so proud of this effort in my adopted hometown. I just happened to be at Growing Power the day before this event and Will told me he would be going to DC to meet with Mrs. Obama, and now I read about it here–what a small world the internet has given us.

    I dearly hope the First Lady’s efforts will not be met with derision from the right; she seems to have made every effort to avoid controversy.

  • Louis Collins

    *gives big round of applause*

    This is a very welcome and much needed first step, and what a well-taken step it is, too. And I completely agree with the First Lady and your quote in the Politico article when you both talk about the need for support for healthier choices.

    I will be really interested to watch the food industry argue against this one! How could working to ensure that our children are healthier be a bad thing for families, our country and even our businesses? Doesn’t a healthy population mean more profits for companies, especially when employees are working more and getting sick less? Hard to see how the food industry that so loudly trumpets “Choice!” for its customers can argue against anyone choosing to be healthier.

    And I also agree that whoever came up with the “Let’s Move” slogan did a very good thing. Move as in exercise, move as in move to making healthier choices, move as in move away from excess salt, fat and sugar, and move as in move children to really understand that they have the power to make good choices for themselves.

  • amy

    This makes me hopeful:
    * It’s a social justice issue.
    * Every child in this country should have access to good food.
    * We have to grow farmers.

  • Let’s here it for Let’s Move!
    I’m hopeful that this conversation has grown beyond “eat less, exercise more” to a realistic overview of the problem. Food deserts need to be eliminated and a new wave of farmers must be cultivated. Michelle gets it and her M-O-M credential speaks to our hearts as well as our heads.

    But don’t forget the most powerful lobby in DC is Big Food. They won’t go down without a fight. While they have a seat at the table, it will be up to all of us to make sure they don’t play the role of the fox in the hen house and turn this into some sort of sick Shrek re-run!

  • I know Michelle Obama can’t target this overtly, but is there talk of reforming farm subsidies to favor fruits and vegetables over corn and soy? Is this talked about as a serious proposition or is it too much of a third rail? I don’t see how this effort can really succeed until the economic structures change so that healthier food is less expensive and cheap processed food is no longer subsidized. I just find it hard to believe that we’re subsidizing the causes of obesity (lots of cheap, nutrition-free calories) and then paying for it on the back end – increased insurance premiums, medicare, medicaid and social security costs. It’s such fiscal insanity and is almost NEVER mentioned in all the health care debate blather. Please tell me I’m wrong and that behind closed doors the administration plans to tackle farm subsidies as part of its health care initiative.

  • I do applaud the First Lady’s campaign against childhood obesity and all of the support included in this initiative!

    I agree that it is very important for us as a nation to change the way we do some things and eating is definitely at the top of the list. It’s great that work has already begun—that our school meal programs are being overhauled to include much healthier choices. It’s a great first step but I believe an even greater challenge lies in what happens after our children leave school and go home.

    Coming from an inner city background, I’ve seen firsthand the “grocery” choices at supermarkets in impoverished communities. I’ve seen the lack of quality fresh fruits, vegetables and meats and organic foods, if available at all, are grossly unaffordable for the average family.

    I have personally tried to speak with the managers at nearby supermarkets in my community to ask them to supply better quality and a wider variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. I’ve made suggestions such as asking them to stock nutritional pamphlets and booklets near the produce section so parents as well as children could learn the importance of eating better but to no avail. I would love some feedback as to how I might approach this topic to get a better response—or at least to get a conversation started.

    Good nutrition, not just in our schools, needs to be addressed on a much wider scale. Until every household in this country has access to nutritional education and affordable, quality food choices we’re fighting an uphill battle but it is certainly a battle we can win if we all work together.

  • Erin

    @ Foodie7 Unfortunately, as you mention, the battle you are waging is quite an uphill one at the moment. As long as we subsidize corn and soy, as Jenna mentioned, we will continue to have grocery stores full of cheap, nutrition-free calories. While nutrition education is certainly an important piece of the puzzle, what is more important to many families is not “what is healthy” but “what can we afford.” You can tell someone all day long to eat more fruits and vegetables, but when they are on a budget and need to get the biggest calorie bang for their buck, more often than not, they are going to buy the twinkies and the wonder bread over the apples and whole grain brain. Though it is common knowledge for us on this blog that paying extra to eat healthy now saves money on health care in the long run, the unfortunate reality is that people with very little incomie cannot think toward the future when they are worried about how to make ends meet today.

    On the side of the grocers, they have no incentive to stock stores with foods people won’t buy; nor do they have incentive to steer people away from the foods that sell best (those high in sugar, fat, salt, etc.). Food is still a business and whatever sells is what they will stock, no matter how detrimental it is to the well being of those buying it.

    Until we stop subsidizing corn and soy – the root problem in our overabundance of sugars, additives, and fatty meats – and find a better way for people in low-income areas to afford healthy foods, I personally believe nothing can change.

    So as to not come off as too much of a cynic, I do want to say that think Mrs. Obama is onto something great here, and I hope that her efforts will be some of most successful we have seen in decades on food and health policy. I cross my fingers that these are just beginning steps to a massive and altogether positive change in how we think about and manage food in this country (and maybe in the world).

  • DennisP

    @ Erin You beat me to the punch. I agree with all that you said. But while I can see some marginal changes taking place in people’s eating habits, I remain pessimistic about any really major changes taking place as long Congress remains the well-boughten property of agribusiness and the food companies. On the other hand I do think that Michelle Obama’s efforts will ramp up the discussion of food-related issues in the country. That discussion has now passed a major turning point with her getting so deeply involved in it. If, that is, the critics do not nit-pick her to death.

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  • This is a great first step. I am a fitness instructor and very much agree with the First Lady’s decission to make a change in the eating habits of children. Obesity is a serious issue in America and has caused many health issues. We need to start paying attention to our bodies. If we began to practice healthy eating we can reduce health issues or maintain existing issues, which will help reduce healthcare cost.

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  • ET Addison

    I’m thinking the point of ‘campaigns’ like this one is NOT to actually make kids skinnier.

    The point is to say ‘Look at us, we’re FIGHTING obesity’. Please applaud.

    Will this actually make kids thinner? Will this ‘program’ actually be evaluated by how much it makes kids thinner? Or will it win great praise from surrogate markers like ‘Look, we make kids drink skim milk in school. And 4 out of 5 kids now know that ‘fruit is wonderful’.

    This is nice feel-good stuff. But will hit have any effect whatsoever? There is ZERO evidence that happy programs like this actually make kids thinner. And it’s been tried regionally, locally, statewide. Lotta happy press, no thinner kids.

    But again, this isn’t about making kids thinner. It’s about fostering a program that sounds wonderful.

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  • By all means lets stigmatize fat children even more.
    Lets call them threats to national security. Lets talk about how they
    drive up heath care costs. Lets promote more eating disorders. Nestle is just clueless!

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  • Applause to Mrs Obama Campaing againg childhood overweight and obesity.
    I offer my modest experience in workshops to young and pregnants women.

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  • Peter Lang

    Hi my name is Peter and I am studying populationand nutrition cert 4. I found this inspiring and I feel we need to look at earlycildhood education, as we do not cover enough in the curriculum, there is nothing on how large amounts of food and little physical activities affect obesity, it seems to focus on brain development in babies and physical development,to stregthen their gross motor skills. I feel we need to educate the educators ,who will then in turn, educate the children and parents, about childhood obesity, and the importance of nutrition and physical activities . Lets instill this at a early age to fight these issues.