by Marion Nestle
Feb 6 2012

Happy 2nd Birthday Let’s Move!

On the occasion of the two-year anniversary of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, it’s time to reflect again on what the campaign means for the White House, for childhood obesity, and for the food movement.

A year later, I summarized some of the campaign’s accomplishments.  From the beginning, I’ve been impressed with its smart choice of targets: to reduce childhood obesity by improving school food and inner city access to healthy foods.

I’m reminded of the political savvy that went into the campaign by an editorial in The Nation (February 6), “America’s First Lady Blues.”  In it, Ilyse Hogue writes about Michelle Obama’s careful treading of the fine line between marital independence and submission, using Let’s Move! as an example.

Hogue praises Mrs. Obama’s choice of a target that looks “soft,” but is anything but:

In an effort to fit Michelle’s role into a traditional profile, the media constantly reminds us that her work is on presumably soft subjects, primarily her hallmark cause to end childhood obesity…Slurs aside, what critics miss is that this campaign is not aimed at soft targets.

The food and beverage industry is a powerful lobbying force, spending nearly $16.3 million in the 2008 cycle to defeat initiatives—like a “soda tax” and limits on aggressive advertising aimed at kids—that would encourage a healthier diet and thus cut into its massive profits.

To tackle childhood obesity, we’ll have to confront complicated issues of race, class, entrenched corporate power, and access to healthy food.

Indeed we will.  Childhood obesity is a focal point for issues of social justice.

Happy birthday Let’s Move!  And many more.

  • chuck

    Mrs. Obama’s ideas and motives are noble. Now she needs to throw some weight around at the USDA to get subsidies flowing toward real food that is nutrient dense but doesn’t lead to overeating and obesity. The fact is, our government helps to make crap food affordable. Real, nutritious food is less affordable causing our nation to choose these foods less.

    How many more farmers would get start growing and selling naturally raised plants and animals if the government paid them to? Subsidizing corn and wheat are not gonna help with our obesity problem.

  • I disagree with you, Marion – and that is something I rarely do. I don’t want there to be many more birthdays for this cause. How long does it take to eradicate a world wide epidemic when we already have the cure?

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  • Mr. Brooks:
    I would argue that knowing the solution and “having the cure” are radically different things. Permanently reversing childhood obesity will be the work of many,many parties coming together and agreeing to essentially revamp our entire food system. When this questions the foundations of industries, how can we expect this to happen overnight? Catalyzed by the awareness brought by Let’s Move!, foundations like Robert Wood Johnson and W.K. Kellogg, and thousands of food system advocates, corporations ARE moving but it will continue to take time and patience for all parties involved.

  • Peggy Holloway

    If only “Let’s move” would work. Exercise is advisable and great for overall health and fitness, but will do nothing for the obesity epidemic as long as people are encouraged to eat grains, starchy vegetables, and sugary fruits and to avoid healthy full-fat meats and dairy.

  • Alexandra

    Peggy, I agree with you completely!
    We are being told to feed ourselves and our children the same diet that feedlots give to cattle and hogs to fatten them as quickly as possible for market… Low fat, moderate protein and large amounts of whole grains and yet we are told that this same diet will make us slim and healthy. There is such a disconnect here!
    If eating fat made livestock fat, guess what the feedlot would be giving them.

  • Joe

    @ Peggy and Alexandra
    You have the right to hold that position but with it comes the responsibility to explain how people who eat fruits, vegetables, grains and such can be healthy and observable many who do are. The truth is we as humans need food to survive and the kind, composition and make up of that food seems to matter very little.

    Furthermore the whole childhood obesity mantra I find questionable. It is like the weapons of mass destruction that we were told about and told about but never got to see. Some called that a government lie and cover up. Just saying.

  • Alex

    The carbohydrate/insulin theory of obesity is dead, put down by those in the paleo community, even. Starch is fine, viable and time tested fuel for humans. Grains are every bit as safe; the only reason to avoid gluten is if you’re allergic, as is true with any other food. Neither is fat uniquely the problem. Non nutritive foods with high palatability is the more likely culprit, decreasing satiety and increasing appetite.

    Basically, eat relatively whole foods, neglecting none of the macronutrients, and move plenty. You know, what nearly every healthy and fit person does.

  • MargaretRC

    @Alex, The carbohydrate insulin hypothesis (it’s not a theory yet) is far from dead. Starch may be fine for some, but for many it’s not. For anyone with insulin resistance, all the glucose that starch in the diet adds to the blood is definitely a problem. And the Paleo community still advises against eating grains, which are relatively new to the human diet. I would agree that non nutritive foods with high palatability (sugar and grain based foods!) are likely culprits in the rise in obesity among adults and children and the solution is to eat a lot less of these foods. You and I are going to disagree on why/how these foods are fattening, but that is secondary to the fact that they are and need to be avoided.
    I agree with @Peggy and @Alexandra that, while moving is good for health, it is not going to solve or even make a dent in the obesity problem unless concommitant with a complete change in the dietary advice that goes with it. Not the eat more vegetables part, but the eat low fat part.