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Childhood Obesity

Our First Lady has taken up a great cause, childhood obesity. Judith Gunlock, who writes for the National Review, likes the First Lady’s personal behaviors with her daughters but wonders if there’s a disconnect then with her proposals. Here are a few paragraphs, and I wonder how you would approach this issue: Is this a family, school, State or Federal issue? Perhaps this is a better approach: Where would you focus your attention? How? 

Michelle Obama has recently taken up childhood obesity as one of her major policy priorities. Interviewed about this “epidemic,” the first lady discussed in some detail her own children’s supposed weight problems as an illustration of her personal experience with her new signature issue. …

But apparently the first family’s own success has had no impact on Mrs. Obama’s policy prescriptions. Her solution for the rest of America is more government intervention. …


Although she was murky on the details, the first lady’s new plan involves four basic initiatives. She wants to increase the number of “healthy” schools, and she also wants to increase the number of physical-activity programs made available by them. She hopes to improve the “accessibility and affordability” of food for all Americans. (Apparently, Mrs. Obama is unaware that Americans pay far less for their food than citizens of other nations do, spending only 7 percent of annual income on it, according to a 2009 Department of Labor study.) Lastly, she wants to “empower” consumers to make better food choices — whatever that means….

By all means, let the first lady urge American parents to follow her example and take the lead in making better food choices for their children. Just as parents need to ensure that their children get enough sleep, do their homework, and avoid dangerous activities, they need to teach their children proper eating habits. Parental involvement, not the federal government, is the only long-term cure for childhood obesity — as Mrs. Obama has shown by her example, if not by her policy proposals.
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posted February 10, 2010 at 3:57 pm

Scot –
There are lots of places to get useful commentary on the “Let’s Move” childhood obesity initiative but The National Review isn’t one of them – in fact, it’s hard to find anyone on either side of the political spectrum criticizing the initiative which may be why Gunlock seemed to be grasping at straws.
For starters read Marion Nestle’s post on her blog: She’s a nutritionist and actually knows what she is talking about.
The point about the cost of food isn’t whether or not we can find cheap food – obesity itself is testimony to the fact that there is an abundance of inexpensive, highly processed food – but whether or not families can afford to eat highly nutritive foods that contribute to an active, healthy lifestyle. Similarly, being “empowered to make better food choices” means shopping with nutrition and health in mind not “how can I get the most calories for my buck.”
Lastly, am I correct in saying that you and Gunlock are criticizing a plan that places the impetus for action squarely on the shoulders of parental responsibility as somehow not being parent-centric enough? Gunlock’s fears of “big brother” being involved in the nutritional decisions of our children displays a gross ignorance of the many, many ways in which food/nutrition decisions are already made for families either by economic necessity or lack of access – two areas in which the government most certainly should be (and already is, though doing an often poor job) involved in working for a level playing field. Like I said, read the Nestle post for some informed commentary on this extremely important issue.

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posted February 10, 2010 at 3:59 pm

If the parents would get involved something might happen. Or, maybe we need just one more diet-type product to market.

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Scot McKnight

posted February 10, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Jon, I have no idea what to think on this so posting Gunlock is not by way of approval but by way of discussion.

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posted February 10, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I don’t care what Michele Obama does, so long as the government keeps its hands of my guns and my Twinkies. Now, let’s talk about something the government should be directly involved in, namely everyone else’s sex lives!

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posted February 10, 2010 at 4:43 pm

It’s tradition for First Ladies to take up a cause in this vein. For Nancy Reagan, it was drug abuse. For Laura Bush, it was literacy. This seems an equally worthy cause for Michelle Obama to undertake. The solution, however, is certainly debatable. Government intervention seems to be among the least efficient and effective modes of change. Perhaps the government could support families in making good food choices by providing them with more and better nutrition information. (Of course, the government already does this–remember the food pyramid?) But the will to act must remain within the family–that’s how change happens.

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James-Michael Smith

posted February 10, 2010 at 4:58 pm

Mandatory martial arts classes throughout elementary school gets my vote! 😉
The Discipleship Dojo

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Randy G.

posted February 10, 2010 at 5:26 pm

I heard part of Mrs. Obama’s statement on this. I take very seriously her comment that parents are trying hard to do the right thing, but getting the right information is nearly impossible.
The food industry has fought every labeling initiative (translated: providing useful information for making informed choices). Examples include fighting small dairies who labeled milk without growth hormone as such because it had a bad effect on that which was, the definition of such simple things as “Grass fed beef” see, and a massive disinformation campaign regarding High Fructose Corn Syrup.
My wife and I have tried to buy our food as close to locally raised and sustainably raised as possible over the last 6 years. No matter whether you agree with doing so or not, it takes incredible work to figure out where most of our food is, or sometimes what is in it, or what it ate. In defense of Mrs. Obama and mothers everywhere: It shouldn’t be so hard.
Randy G.

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posted February 10, 2010 at 5:46 pm

Scot –
My fault – the feed reader messed up the formatting so i thought the last paragraph was yours and not a quote as I hadn’t reread the Gunlock piece since this morning.

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sam tsang

posted February 10, 2010 at 6:28 pm

1) by being an example of good diet and exercise – workout regularly, skip the simple carbs, beacon and eat good quality protein, veggies and fruits
2) by not buying soft drinks, children can get used to it.
3) by not rewarding children with food, so that they do not develop a habit of rewarding themselves when they get older.
4) love the children so that they do not fall into depression and use food as comfort.

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Vaughn Treco

posted February 10, 2010 at 6:34 pm

The First Lady’s proposals fails on the most basic moral level, namely, on the principal of “Subsidiarity”:
“Subsidiarity, understood in the positive sense as economic, institutional or juridical assistance offered to lesser social entities, entails a corresponding series of negative implications that require the State to refrain from anything that would de facto restrict the existential space of the smaller essential cells of society. Their initiative, freedom and responsibility must not be supplanted” (CCSD 186).
Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them? (CCSD 186).
The American Republic institutionalized this basic principal when the founding fathers – through the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States of America (with its Bill of Rights) – placed strong limits upon the prerogatives of the Federal government.
It is high time that the citizens of this great republican stand up and reject the systematic erosion of the role that principal of subsidiarity has played throughout its history.
The First Lady’s proposals may be well-inentioned, but they are nevertheless destructive of the commonwealth and are treacherous to the proper development of a self-governing (that is, responsible) citizenry.

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Your Name

posted February 10, 2010 at 10:52 pm

More details to sam#9: eat low on the glycemic index, avoid high fructose corn syrup, push “good fats” to replace “bad fats,” and the less processed the food, the better. Some things like fermented foods and beans require processing but the benefits are better.
Randy#7: you said “In defense of Mrs. Obama and mothers everywhere: It shouldn’t be so hard,” let’s start adding “fathers” to that equation.
Vaughn#10: Amen brother! Bold thing to say on a site where many believe it is the government’s job to do (their definition of) God’s work.

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Mike M

posted February 10, 2010 at 10:53 pm

That would be me in #11: the “recaptcha” didn’t “resubmat” my name

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posted February 11, 2010 at 5:46 am

Child obesity it is not something new. Many nations are facing this problem. The important step we will have to take is to teach children
1. The importance of food
2. The importance to eat healthy food
3. The goodness of healthy food
4. Make them aware of the problems faced by obese people
Everything begins from home, so it should parents who should take the responsibility in making their children eat healthy.

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Fausto Coppi

posted February 11, 2010 at 7:53 am

Please watch Food Inc (if you’re a Netflix subscriber, it’s a free download) and a few youtube videos of Joel Salatin or Michael Pollan and then you might have some context for what this remarkable First Lady is talking about. Real food, as opposed to edible food-like substances that our children ingest in most school systems, is currently more expensive to buy than the highly processed stuff that fills 80-90% of most grocery stores. And our nation’s farm policy, essentially dictated to the federal government by big business (ADM, Cargill, Monsanto, etc.), subsidizes corn and soybean production to insure that we continue to get a steady (and very cheap) diet of highly processed stuff.
Salatin wants less government regulation so that he can slaughter his beef and pigs on his own farm and sell it locally. And sell it transparently (which just means you can go out to his farm and see how he produces and processes his products). And he’s absolutely right. The independent, sustainable farmer lacks access to many food markets because they can’t process their food without jumping through some very expensive hoops.
So when Michelle Obama wants to make real food affordable, I think she’s talking about unprocessed food that actually contains more nutrients than the edible food-like substances most of us buy. As for empowerment, maybe she’s talking about educating folks about where their food really comes from. Most of us have no idea (I sure didn’t until about a month ago) about where our food comes from. It’s not a pretty sight. Watch Food Inc. for details.
I wish the First Lady good luck. She’ll have no support from the folks who control food policy in this country. And she’ll have to deal with the ignorance that seems to equate cheap food with good food.

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Randy G.

posted February 11, 2010 at 8:23 am

I agree with you 100%. What Mrs. Obama is driving for is to provide parents the information to do just that. — Remember that when Mrs. Obama started an organic garden at the White House, the food corporations told her it would be dangerous.
Randy Gabrielse

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Jon Snyder

posted February 11, 2010 at 1:26 pm

While Michelle obama may be trying to make healthy food more affordable, she needs to consider the damage the President is doing to the agricultural subsidy system. Farmers across the U.S. are terrified that they will not be able to make a profit if these subsidies subside. The President supports removing the subsidies, his wife is making claims that would only increase them.
The issue is more complex than just making it happen.

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Jill Carlson

posted February 11, 2010 at 2:42 pm

It is very sad that we have a first lady that is so uninformed and so misled about the issue of dieting.
Dieting is dangerous.
Diets Don’t Work!
Only 10% of dieters can maintain their weight over a 5-year time period.
The other 90% of dieters develop eating disorders and/or regain their original weight loss, and continue to gain even more weight.
God did not design for us to be on diets. He gave us hunger signals that let us know when we are hungry, and when we are satisfied/full.
The problem is that most Americans are out of touch with these signals.
We can learn to “tune in” to these signals by being more aware of how our body feels. A really great resource would be “Intuitive Eating” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. In addition, “Overcoming Overeating” by Carol Munter is a wonderful help.

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posted February 11, 2010 at 5:52 pm

I support an initiative in which schools would be asked to offer better choices for children and youth. That would require additional funding however.
I also support more activity in schools… recess, phy-ed etc. It is nothing more than what many baby boomers grew up with. Those classes have been crowded out by other mandatory curriculia. exercise helps students think better… it helps me think better.

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