Today Michelle Obama celebrates the first anniversary of her worthy cause Let’s Move, the campaign to end childhood obesity within one generation. Launched early last year, the program aims to achieve its noble goal by
- improving the nutritional quality of school lunches
- adding more physical activity to schools
- providing access to fresh and healthy foods in all communities by eliminating food deserts
- providing nutrition education for kids and their parents.
How can the first lady achieve this without any legislative power? And with so many stakeholders set to LOSE if her program succeeds?
By sheer leadership, willpower, and charisma, Mrs. Obama has made some notable strides in the past 12 months:
- First and most importantly, she has raised awareness to a new level. Everyone is now worried about obesity and its long term effect on this country.
- Secondly, she has forged a dialog and partnership with the food industry, most notably Wal-Mart, to lower sodium, fat, and sugar in thousands of foods, as well as open up supermarkets in inner city food deserts.
- And no doubt, her access to the ear of the President, has had some effect on the child nutrition bill.
However, it is highly doubtful that this momentum will continue past a second or third year. Without getting into too much politics here, Obama 2012 does not seem very likely. And a new first lady in 2013 will probably have a new agenda to push (childhood literacy was Laura Bush’s project). All the PR and photo-ops of food industry executives circa 2010-2011 will quickly be forgotten.
And if we examine each of the above achievements, we realize, that despite their well meaning, they are insignificant in the grand scheme of things:
1. Awareness is not enough. When the cheapest option for a hardworking mom to feed her kids is to pick up a pizza pie or a bucket of KFC on the way home from the office, what does it help her to know that her family needs to consume more veggies.
By the way, McDonald’s had its best year ever in 2010, with sales growth both domestically (4.4% !!!) and internationally (yes, we are exporting obesity).
2. The partnership with food manufacturers and retailers is interesting. At the end of the day these corporations are out to make money. And the most profitable products are the least healthy. Partly due to farm subsidies that make sugar-like sweeteners (HFCS) so cheap. Will Michelle Obama tackle the 2012 Farm Bill? Heck, even Barack is not going to touch that can of worms.
3. It’s hard to see how the child nutrition bill, adding pennies a day to an already low cost school lunch will have an impact. Yes, there are some grass roots local success stories, but they are an exception to the rule.
4. Our entire society is set up for fast food and for junk food. It is obesogenic from the moment we wake up til we go to sleep. Just look at the Superbowl commercials this past Sunday, 12 out of 12 were for junk. While the USDA is telling us to eat less, companies are making larger and larger portions. Just read this recent quote:
“The bottom line is we’re in the business of making money, and we make money off of what we sell,” said Beth Mansfield, spokeswoman for CKE Restaurants Inc., which owns the Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s chains. “If we wanted to listen to the food police and sell nuts and berries and tofu burgers, we wouldn’t make any money and we’d be out of business.”
And thus we enter 2011 with a warm fuzzy feeling in our tummy – the first lady is watching out for our kids. If only she had the real power to do so …