Monday, February 15, 2010

The Fight Over Fighting Obesity

Only in the U.S. could a campaign to boost kids' health and wellness cause so much controversy.

Only in America could a program designed to improve the health and wellness of the country's youngest citizens be something that would attract a political firestorm. But that's what has happened to First Lady Michelle Obama's newly unveiled Let's Move program, which will target the ongoing childhood epidemic “through a comprehensive approach that builds on effective strategies, and mobilizes public and private sector resources.”

Not all of the criticisms that have so far been leveled at the program are illegitimate. Some believe that the initiative has overstated both the seriousness of the childhood obesity problem, and the laziness of children that the program says needs to be addressed. Certain statistics, for example, show that childhood obesity numbers are actually starting to decline. And many researchers have already pointed out the flaws in using the Body Mass Index (BMI) scale to measure obesity, saying it has many flaws and doesn't take certain crucial factors into account. Others worry that the Let's Move program might harm the very children it's trying to help by creating a culture of shame around body image and heaviness – possibly even encouraging eating disorders and other unhealthy behavior as kids try to avoid being fat at all costs.

Then there are the very unreasonable critiques of the program, most notably from FOX News channel host Glenn Beck. Beck used his show to throw out some wildly unreasonable charges of what the Let's Move program could lead to, saying:

“So now going all out to have government limit the food choices available at our kids’ school, to make sure that grocery stores pop up in what they are calling — and I’m not kidding you — food deserts. There’s no salad bars; it’s a food desert. Then we are going to put the grocery stores instead of fast food businesses.

They’ll limit what we can watch on TV, what ads we can run and how long we can watch. No doubt we’ll start mandating certain kind of activities as part of this wonderful government campaign.”

Clearly, the government plans to do nothing of the sort – and even if it did, it would have pesky things like laws and courts standing in its way. So, what does the program intend to do? Here are a few pieces of its mission toward boosting kids' health and wellness: revamp the food pyramid and help put new dietary guidelines into practice; serve healthier food in schools; promote front-of-label calorie listings to encourage healthy eating choices and purchases; educate doctors, nurses and parents about obesity; increase public awareness about obesity through public service announcements; and reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, which would increase the quality and numbers of participant in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs.


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