It has been an American tradition that First Ladies choose a cause to champion. Nancy Reagan advised us to just say no to drugs, Hillary Clinton advocated for healthcare reform, and former librarian Laura Bush promoted increasing literacy. Michelle Obama has chosen reducing childhood obesity through good nutrition and physical activity as her goal. Her “Let’s Move” campaign began in February 2010 as a broad-based effort to raise a healthier generation of children. The need for this campaign is clear: the incidence of childhood obesity has tripled in the past 30 years, with almost one in five children classified as obese. Obese youth are more likely to become overweight or obese adults, increasing the risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, and other chronic conditions.
“Let’s Move” is a comprehensive approach to improving diets and physical activity in children. It includes a website with information and tips that parents, community leaders, schools, elected officials, and chefs can use to grow and serve healthy foods and to empower communities and families to make healthy decisions. Many of us in the nutrition community have been trying to do this locally and across the United States, but Michelle Obama has the celebrity exposure for national promotion and the federal connections to advocate for national policies to get the job done on a large scale.
So one year later, have we moved? It’s too early for outcome evaluations to determine the impact of the program on fruit and vegetable availability in schools and communities or in children’s BMI, eating habits, or physical activity. But based on the attention that the program has gained and that Michelle Obama has brought to the issue, I would say it’s an excellent start. She has partnered with USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to invest in new Team Nutrition Grants for Healthy Meals, funding for the Healthier U.S. Schools Challenge, and support of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. She has engaged Surgeon General Regina Benjamin in promoting the program, has developed a Chefs Move to Schools program, created a White House kitchen garden, and promoted the “Let’s Move” concept among spouses of chiefs and heads of governments at the United Nations. Over 450 mayors and city officials have signed on to become a “Let’s Move” city, and close to 1,250 schools are expected to join the program by June.
Where to go from here? It appears that the momentum is gaining—we are seeing more schools and cities join the program, more advertisements, more gardens, and more attention to the issue of childhood obesity. We will need more participation from the food, beverage and restaurant industries and other sectors of society such as childcare centers, universities, worksites, and healthcare institutions. Together, we can make a difference in child nutrition. And here’s a tip for kids: if offered fruits and vegetables, just say yes.