by Marion Nestle
Jan 3 2011

Bipartisan support for obesity prevention?

To my pleasant surprise, editorial writers in the conservative press defended Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign against attacks by even more conservative critics (I’m still catching up with what I missed on vacation).

December 26 Washington Post: Op-ed: “How did obesity become a partisan fight?, by Fred Hiatt , editorial page editor:

Well, yes, if Michelle Obama is for it, someone will be against it. Someone like Glenn Beck, for example, who was moved to rail against carrot sticks, or Sarah Palin, who warned that Obama wants to deprive us all of dessert.

And when you look a little deeper, it’s not surprising that a crusade seemingly beyond questioning would become a political battle.

Interests that might feel threatened by Let’s Move include the fast-food industry, agribusiness, soft-drink manufacturers, real estate developers (because suburban sprawl is implicated), broadcasters and their advertisers (of sugary cereals and the like), and the oil-and-gas and automotive sectors (because people ought to walk more and drive less).

Throw in connections to the health-care debate (because preventive services will be key to controlling the epidemic), race (because of differential patterns of obesity) and red state-blue state hostilities (the reddest states tend to be the fattest), and it turns out there are few landmines that Michelle Obama didn’t trip by asking us all to shed a few pounds.

Hiatt’s piece ends with “It’s not going to be easy,” Michelle Obama says. She’s right – but also right to keep pushing.”

December 27 Wall Street Journal: Editorial: “Palin’s Food Fight.”

President Obama’s indiscriminate expansion of federal power has inspired a healthy populist rebellion, but his opponents sometimes seem to lose their sense of proportion. Take Sarah Palin’s mockery of Michelle Obama’s childhood antiobesity campaign.

The first lady has emphasized more nutritious school lunches but mostly encourages parents to make sure their kids eat healthy and exercise. Mrs. Palin sees a big government plot.

…No one hates the nanny state more than we do, but Mrs. Obama isn’t exactly ordering up Lenin’s Young Pioneers. Adults do have an obligation to teach children how to live, and that includes adults who are role models by dint of their national prominence….Telling kids to eat their vegetables and run around the block is merely instructing them to take responsibility for their own choices.

With this kind of support, real progress is possible.  How’s that for an optimistic note on which to start the new year?

  • Absolutely! Thank you for pointing these articles out and crediting sensible journalism where it’s due. Food bloggers and nutrition/public health advocates alike have to be very aware of not letting some conservative forces color anti-obesity efforts as the new “culture wars.” It is too important to be relegated to partisan sniping.

    The obesity crisis is real and not caused by the occasional school bake sale. We shouldn’t take “the bait” when people suggest that banning birthday cupcakes is what Michelle Obama is talking about.

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  • It’s nice to know that some people are able to look past politics and discuss issues and agendas based on merit alone. I wonder if Palin and Beck realize how ridiculous they must sound when Republican vs. Democrat is taken out of the equation. How is anyone against suggestions (regardless of where they come from) to make our children healthier?

  • For me the real issue is for individuals to be empowered about food issues. Having influential people supporting healthy lifestyles is great.

  • … and the rest.

    However, government has convoluted the story a bit for the last couple of decades. I learned the food pyramid which was taught in schools and many many other places. It was adopted as truth. The FDA promoted that.

    The trick is to get us all to own our health. That certainly means having good information available. But it also means not using “official” means to promote a specific approach.

  • Yes, it’s encouraging to see that the business community can find reasons to support healthy eating. The Wall Street Journal had another op-ed today called “2011: The Year of the Vegetable” ( It’s by the chairman of Atlee Burpee, the seed company, and encourages everyone to grow vegetables (and buy more seeds).

  • Isaac Luria

    Great post, Marion.
    Don’t forget that Mike Huckabee also sided with Michelle Obama over Sarah Palin in this one…

  • SeS

    It is great to note that someone is seriously thinking of obesity as a rampang health issue. Though health is a personal matter, every now and then people need to be reminded of nutritional facts. This is a refreshing post!