First Lady Takes on Obesity

Discussion
Feb 22, 2010

By Tom Ryan

While recent First Ladies have taken on causes
such as illiteracy, drug abuse, mental illness and even highway beautification,
Michelle Obama last week announced a sweeping initiative to eliminate childhood
obesity.

The Let’s Move initiative includes four major
goals: providing parents with the information and support they need to
help their children eat properly, ensuring that schools offer more healthful
food, helping children get regular physical activity and ensuring that
healthful food is available in all areas and neighborhoods.

Among the changes discussed:

  • Last week, beverage companies
    said they would post calorie counts on the front of their containers
    by the end of 2012;
  • The Obama administration
    will ask Congress for an additional $10 billion to reauthorize the Child
    Nutrition Act, with the aim of offering healthier school breakfast, lunch
    and snack items and serving one million more children;
  • School cafeteria suppliers
    pledged to double the amount of produce they serve in schools over the
    next decade and reduce sugar, fat and salt in their offerings;
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture
    also is considering restricting the sale of certain sugary drinks and
    salty snacks in school vending machines;
  • The White House plans to
    spend $400 million to bring grocery stores to underserved areas and help
    convenience stores carry healthier food. It plans $5 million to help
    fund farmers’ markets;
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture
    will revamp its food pyramid and offer more dietary tools on its web
    site.

At
last week’s annual winter meeting of the National Governors Association,
Ms. Obama praised programs already underway in many states. “There
is no one-size-fits-all answer to this problem,” she said. She also said
that while the nation needs a comprehensive approach to fighting childhood
obesity, “that doesn’t necessarily mean an expensive approach.”

The Grocery Manufacturers Association, American
Beverage Association and The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association all
praised the effort while touting their own efforts.

“Childhood obesity is a serious health crisis
that can’t be solved without strong leadership from the White House,” said
Scott Faber, GMA’s vice president for federal affairs.

One different tactic from past pushes is
that the initiative is designed to shift the conversation away from achieving
a particular weight or dress size and instead emphasize the benefits of
good nutrition and physical activity. Messages about avoiding unhealthy
food tend to turn off Americans.

“This isn’t just about inches and pounds,
and it’s not about how our kids look,” Mrs. Obama said at Tuesday’s press
conference announcing the initiative. “It’s about how our kids feel, and
it’s about how they feel about themselves.”

The other difference is the clout of a first
lady. Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa has seen many of his proposals fail over
the last 15 years, including a 1996 push to remove vending machines from
schools and a move two years ago to ban soft drinks from schools. “When
she does these kinds of things, it gets a lot more attention than if I
do it,” Sen. Harkin told The Wall Street Journal.

Discussion Questions:
What’s your initial take on the “Let’s Move” initiative? Which efforts
do you believe should be stressed? How much will having the First
Lady’s backing help the anti-obesity effort?

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17 Comments on "First Lady Takes on Obesity"


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Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
11 years 2 months ago

This entire program is pathetic on so many levels. Where is all the money that the government is spending really going? Are they planning on opening grocery stores in under serviced areas themselves? Or are they just bribing grocery chain execs to open stores in unprofitable regions?

And why do beverage companies need two years to start putting calorie information on their containers? They seem to be able to come out with new containers quite quickly for contests and special promotions.

Finally, it is sad that so many proposals aimed at providing better nutrition to kids have been shot down as the result of effective lobbyists. I hope the first lady has more pull than a senator.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
11 years 2 months ago

This is a great idea; it reminds you of the Kennedy effort on fitness. It doesn’t appear to be all inclusive with a holistic approach, which it needs to be successful.These efforts are important but parents will need to get involved and support before it will work. The First Lady’s backing is important and she’s a good example of fitness.

We have to start somewhere, with the percentage of obesity rising rapidly. This can also be looked at as a proactive health care program because obese children usually turn out to be obese adults with all the healthcare and self esteem ramifications that come with it.

David Livingston
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

Some things are going to help. Others are just a waste of time. Healthier food served at schools will certainly help. They should also encourage children to engage in more high intensity cardio exercise at school.

The $400 million to put supermarkets in underserved areas is a waste of money. If grocers really wanted to be in those areas they would be already. Bribing them with funds might get them in but they won’t stay. While the need for healthy food is there, the demand isn’t. It will take years of reprogramming children’s minds to create the demand.

Doron Levy
Guest
Doron Levy
11 years 2 months ago

Seems like we have been talking about obesity for a long time here on RetailWire. As long as fast food places allow easy access to bad food, such as a value or dollar menus, people (and families) will continue to patronize such establishments. Ever see a salad or skinless chicken sandwich on a value menu? If so, please enlighten me.

Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

Any initiative that focuses attention on getting children to be more active and to eat a more healthy diet is good. As first lady, Mrs. Obama is in a unique position to shine a spotlight on this issue. This effort does not need to be expensive and one size does not fit all. If this is successful the country will be healthier, medical costs will not rise as quickly and our children will lead better lives.

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

How about subsidizing vegetables instead of meat and dairy? Imagine a world in which broccoli wasn’t an indulgence for a low income family and a hamburger was.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

The critical issue isn’t being–and maybe in all fairness can’t be–addressed.

If you are looking for a silver bullet against obesity, it’s lifestyle. Boomer kids ate badly (based on what we now know) but they were thinner because they walked/biked everywhere–to school, around the neighborhood, etc.

That constant aerobic exercise (which people used to call hanging out or living) is a thing of the past. Kids are driven to school; sit in their rooms once they get home from school; and are driven to and from sporting events. When/how are they supposed to burn calories?

Good diet is critical, but it’s only part of the equation. Obesity is a function of calories taken in less the number of calories burned off.

Rick Moss
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

In response to David Livingston, I would say that, yes … when there’s a health crises, it’s government’s role to step in with incentives. It should be acknowledged that large chains may lose money on the stores they open in these “food deserts” and that should be played up by the retailers and the government as a “donation” to a worthwhile cause.

The philosophical question is, do large chains have a responsibility to society at large or only to their shareholders?

Roger Saunders
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

The First Lady can make use of the “Bully Pulpit” to inspire a group of children and parents to get proper exercise, eat properly, and talk about nutrition. She, and the White House can’t “mandate” practices in this arena. Let’s hope that we don’t receive an added “Let’s spend” plan from D.C. on this one.

If Ms. Obama wants to help bring better grocery opportunities to neighborhoods around the country, she can start with Chicago and work with the local unions who have put the kibosh on building Walmart and Target super centers in the inner city. Those locations are only a short 3 to 5 miles from where the President and First Lady used to live.

Mark Plona
Guest
Mark Plona
11 years 2 months ago

High marks for the attempt, but to someone else’s point, why does it take so long to happen? Cost?

Children today will not live as long as their parents. Should they be considered an expendable generation while product lines are retrofitted? There are ample supplies of healthy product available now.

It appears as though the First Lady is pushing all the right buttons in the industry and local government, and it looks like there will be an effect, but how long before the demand actually changes to make it cost effective?

Stacey Silliman
Guest
Stacey Silliman
11 years 2 months ago

Every First Lady takes on an initiative, whether this is a success or not remains to be seen. However, many grocery retailers are doing what they can to promote the health and nutrition aspect.

It’s important that children make healthier choices. Kids today are not as active as they used to be due to technology. It’s sad to see young children weighing hundreds of pounds. The life span will decrease in the near future if something credible isn’t done.

Again, not sure this will solve the issue but anything is better than nothing at all.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
11 years 2 months ago

Perhaps some of my colleagues are old enough to remember exercising to the “chicken fat” song that was the focus of many PE classes, scout meetings, and a morning routine at summer camps throughout the ’60s and ’70s. Let’s bring it back!!! I applaud the First Lady’s efforts and hope that her influence may focus attention to the obesity problem which is real, and help to integrate thinking on the various contributors toward obesity. But just throwing money at it is not the answer. The billions in costs allocated for this vague program are unacceptable at a time of such fiscal peril for our nation. Until the *real* top cause of obesity is addressed first and honestly–the lack of calories being burned–our tax money will not be well spent and the fight against obesity will fail.

Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

In the Cause Marketing arena, there’s nothing better than exposure. So, for the obesity cause, this is a major, major step. We’ve been looking at the numbers (to say nothing of the people in the airports and everywhere else now) for a long time with only the “activists” chiming in. Michelle will legitimize the effort, which at worse case, is a good start.

You’ll know we’ve really made progress on obesity when the warning labels come out. Then, the lobbyists will have lost and the “cause” team will have won. (2015?)

Gene Detroyer
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

What a good idea!!! Another change to the Food Pyramid!!! Do you think the USDA can do this without the input of the industry?

The obesity problem is very complex and all of those factors previously mentioned add to it. But, one serious problem is that the food industry is geared to sell calories. Today, the average per capita caloric intake is twice what it was two generations ago. Don’t even address dollars or units or traditional financial measures. Can you imagine what would happen to Kraft Foods if the caloric intake of Americans dropped from 3,700 per day to a healthy average of 1,700 per day? Kraft would rather see the caloric intake increased by 10%.

Kudos for the First Lady. If she is successful, she could have more impact on the cost of U.S. healthcare than the politicians have had in the last 30 years. But, the reality is that the inertia and money is supporting very opposite goals.

Bernice Hurst
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

This program gives food manufacturers and retailers a wagon to jump aboard without having to hammer out the details themselves. They can climb aboard and wave their own flags, showing their good will and contributions, as well as their patriotism and altruism, hopefully attracting more customers and fans for doing it. What I particularly like is the positive approach to what kids eat and what they do rather than pressuring them about what they shouldn’t eat, what they don’t do and, worst of all, how they look. Focusing on everyone feeling good is far more constructive and likely to succeed. Helping the kids, and the manufacturers and retailers, to feel good could be a positive way of kickstarting some serious changes. To Rick’s question about shareholders–some of the feel good feelings might even rub off on them….

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 2 months ago

Among the other issues stated here, we need to look at the fact that people need to take responsibility for their own health, as opposed to relying on the government to do so. Can you imagine if the government actually issued incentives for healthy lifestyles, i.e., a $1000 tax credit for each individual in the household who maintained 30 minutes per day/3x/week physical activity, and/or maintained a 5 a day veggie regimen?! Sure, compliance audits would be tough to execute. However, we should start by inducing people to make this happen, without the government making restrictions on our choices.

Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
11 years 2 months ago
I admire the First Lady for taking on this cause, but she is working with one of her well-sculpted biceps tied behind her back. The recommendations here are mostly band-aids–the food pyramid has been an embarrassment for years, mostly funded by corn and CPG manufacturers. To succeed, we need to buck the food interests and make some hard choices:* Bring recess back to school and get all kids into sports and activities on a daily basis.* Reduce corn subsidies in order to raise the price of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) which can be directly tied to rises in obesity.* Increase the number and variety of unprocessed foods that can be purchased in grocery stores at affordable prices–right now, you can buy fast food hamburgers for much less than broccoli in the grocery store. These moves, and others like them, will be necessary to ensure that our kids can live longer than us, a trend which seems to be reversing. I hope the First Lady can leverage the bully pulpit and help these efforts to… Read more »
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