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5 Ways The Let’s Move Campaign Will End Childhood Obesity
Michelle Obama, First Lady since January 2009, has used her time in office well. Starting with talks on a White House lawn, she has launched the Let’s Move campaign – taking on the mission to end childhood obesity in America in one generation. It is hardly a modest goal, that all children reach adulthood at a normal weight will take continuous, comprehensive action by all sectors of society. To that end, Let’s Move engages parents, children, elected officials, schools, community leaders and health care providers—every branch of society—to ensure that everyone is doing their part.
Childhood obesity education
Before someone is motivated to take action, they must understand that there is a reason to do so. The first way Mrs. Obama’s campaign addresses apathy is simply to educate the public about the desperate place we are in. Check out these alarming statistics:
The past 30 years have seen a tripling in obese children in America, so that today 1 in 3 minors are overweight (too much weight for height) or obese (too much body fat for height), and, in fact, 1 in 3 Americans. It is estimated that Americans today eat almost a third more calories per diem than in 1960, including alarming amounts of fats and sugars. Such a drastic change cannot but damage the body. It is known that the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, asthma, and many other conditions increase with obesity.
We can no longer pretend that this is an individual problem. With an epidemic of obesity among our children, we must all take responsibility for creating a healthier environment. But instead of being overwhelmed by that responsibility, the Let’s Move campaign presents clear, achievable steps to enable a healthy future.
Start eating healthy
After educating about the problem, the Let’s Move campaign educates the public about the solution. The first step in a healthier lifestyle is figuring out how to eat correctly. The disturbing trends of the last decade stem from radical differences in how we eat and what we eat. Not only are portion sizes out of control, but people are also often ignorant of the quality (or poor quality) of the food they eat. In short, people do not know what is good for them. And if adults are not informed, children are even less so. However, information is now more available than ever and it is the responsibility of parents and guardians to be informed and pass that information on to the next generation.
The Food and Drug Administration, the government agency that regulates the food industry, requires that most prepared food distributors (canned, boxed, bagged) label their products with the Nutrition Information Label that lists serving size, calorie content and a wealth of other information. In 2009, commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg proposed some new initiatives for the FDA, including sending warning letters to companies that misrepresent their products and working with the food industry to introduce front-of-pack labeling that allows consumers to make even more healthy choices easy.
While labels help families become more informed about the food they consume at home, the fact is that most people eat a large percentage of food outside the home. Whether from restaurants, schools, snack shops or vending machines, many foods do not come packaged with reliable information. But that is no longer an excuse. The US Department of Agriculture website provides clear and comprehensive information on the new Food Pyramid (updated from the old grains-on-the-bottom model that adults may be familiar with), which outlines the components of a balanced day of meals sketched. Unlike the old version, Food Pyramid 2.0 includes the importance of exercise and redistributes the servings per day for each food category. That website and hundreds of others that provide quality food information make healthy choices well within the reach of all Americans.
As well as educating children and families on how to eat well, the Let’s Move campaign aims to make a tangible difference by helping schools lead the way. With school budgets tight across the nation, more and more junk food has made its way into the public school system and our children’s bodies, generally because it’s cheap, convenient and long-lasting. However, when the long-term costs of obesity are taken into account (higher health care costs), cutting corners in childhood is no longer a viable option. School administrators and parents need to get involved and change the choices in schools so that children can learn better while they are in school and live better when they are not.
Getting people active
Along with learning what to put in our bodies, Americans need to learn how to use their bodies to keep them in top shape. The USDA claims that children and teenagers should get 60 minutes of physical activity daily, while adults should get at least 30 on a regular basis. Most Americans do not live up to those standards, and for some they seem unattainable. However, getting enough exercise in a day is only a matter of priorities. The average American child (8-18) spends 7.5 hours DAILY on entertainment media. The Let’s Move campaign means to change that by activating families, schools and communities.
Every family’s schedule and lifestyle is different, so building in more activity will look different in each case. For one family it may decide to walk to any place that is less than a kilometer from home; for another, it can be a family tradition of four square in the driveway. Opportunities to be active can be fun and build family togetherness. Put on spring jackets in your PJs in the morning, dance around the kitchen to your favorite songs, ride your bike to the park, or see who can swing higher on the swings. Children love to be active, and they love it even more when they spend quality time with their parents. But even if you can’t get the child away from a screen, entertainment media also have many active options. Nintendo’s Wii Fit, or the popular Dance Dance Revolution, or even simple YouTube videos like Exercise with Daniel can get kids up and active without them even knowing it.
Of course, much of a child’s day is spent at school, so schools are also responsible for building exercise into the schedule, along with educating students about its importance. Making physical education a priority, allowing time for recess, expanding and supporting after-school sports, and even incorporating physical education into the academic curriculum are all ways schools can help students be their healthiest selves. There is more research every day that establishes the benefit of movement in learning – a healthy body makes a healthy brain.
Communities can encourage citizens to live healthily by building an infrastructure that supports it. Bike paths, parks, safe routes to and from schools, activity centers and youth programs make exercise convenient and attractive. Initiatives that make team memberships cheaper, offer scholarships for athletic involvement, or educate disadvantaged students about opportunities in the area can all have positive effects on children’s lives.
Helping people take action
Because change can be overwhelming, Let’s Move has outlined “5 Simple Steps to Success” for every group it tries to educate: parents, children, elected officials, schools, community leaders, health care providers, and even chefs.
For example, the five steps for chefs are as follows:
1) Join Chefs Move to Schools initiative. This move encourages chefs to “adopt” a school and work in it to educate students, families and administrators about nutritious options and exciting new foods. The Let’s Move website helps chefs find schools (and school cooks) with an interactive searchable map.
2) Take the HealthierUS School Challenge. Once a school is adopted, chefs can help schools apply for a HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSCC) School by meeting various criteria. The USDA: Food and Nutrition Services page describes the incentives offered to schools that meet the requirements.
3) Learn about child nutrition programs. To be effective in adopting a school, chefs can educate themselves about current child nutrition programs and evaluate what can be improved.
4) Prep for the class. When arriving at a school, a chef must ask good questions about what the goals of the school are and what the current production is. Where does food come from? What kind of equipment does the kitchen have? Does the menu need an overhaul?
5) Find recipes for success. Recipes for Success are innovative ideas that have worked well. Whether a chef gets them from somewhere else or invents them himself, sharing ideas across the country can only help us build healthier schools faster.
Joining People Together
Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign sounds like a great idea. But that’s all it will ever be if Americans don’t take it personally and seriously. To make sure it becomes a movement and not just a motto, there are clear ways to get involved. Along with following the action steps on the action step page, every citizen is invited to take the Let’s Move pledge and receive email updates, join a Let’s Move Meetup regionally to plan activities and strategize locally, and join the Partnership for a Healthier America, which focuses on mobilizing leadership across sectors to lead the way to health. Anyone can also join the conversation on Facebook
The Let’s Move campaign is a call to action against childhood obesity that cannot be ignored. In the words of the promise,
“We believe that every child has the right to a healthy childhood. We cannot let this be the first generation in our history to grow up less healthy than their parents. The ingredients… better food + more activity… are clear. Let’s Move is not only noble, it is a necessity. It is not just a slogan, it is our responsibility.”
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