President Barack Obama has released a memorandum outlining the importance of combating childhood obesity. In it, the President outlines strategies to address weight issues in the nation’s youth. Public outreach and the formation of a task force are central to this initiative. First Lady Michelle Obama takes a lead role in bringing national awareness concerning this epidemic through the Let’s Move organization. She works with public, nonprofit, and private sectors to support measures to address childhood obesity. Let’s Move also focuses on working with families and communities.
Approximately 30% of children in the USA are overweight. This rate has doubled in young children and has tripled for adolescents since 1980. It is estimated that at least one third of today’s youth will suffer from diabetes and others will contract other obesity related illnesses including high blood pressure and heart disease. The presidential directive states that immediate action is required. As such, the directive focuses on preventing obesity related illnesses and consequential burdens on the nation’s healthcare system.
The memorandum establishes a task force which focuses on parent nutritional education, physical exercise, and affordable food options in schools and communities. The task force includes cabinet members such as the Secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Education. The Assistant to the President and the Chief of Staff to the First Lady are also included in the task force. The task force will focus on federal responses to the obesity crisis as well as nongovernmental actions that can be implemented. Special attention will be given to healthy, affordable food; increased physical activity in schools and communities, healthier food in schools, and informing parents and caregivers concerning healthy choices. Let’s Move takes up these initiatives and actively works to achieve these health related goals.
Building on this momentum, the new health reform law requires that chain restaurants and vending machines with more than 20 locations to label food calorie information. The new health reform law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed recently by President Obama provides funding for a childhood obesity reduction project. The health reform law identifies obesity reduction as an important method to prevent illness. As such, obesity related services take an important role in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and obesity related healthcare is cited multiple times in the 2,393 page law. Educational and counseling services as well as community funding for projects to end obesity are included in the new law.
President Bill Clinton’s foundation, in conjunction with the American Heart Association, created the Alliance for a Healthier Generation which shares the same goals as the Obama initiative. Partnership for a Healthier America is a foundation newly formed to combine multiple nonpartisan efforts to fight obesity. This new foundation combines efforts with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, The California Endowment, Kaiser Permanente, Nemours, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. First Lady Michelle Obama serves as Honorary Chair and both a prominent Republican and a prominent Democrat will be named as Honorary Vice Chairs to underscore the organization’s nonpartisan position.
The bipartisan and nonpartisan fitness initiatives and organizations of today starkly contrast the USDA’s (US Department of Agriculture) reclassification of ketchup as a vegetable during President Reagan’s term in office. This allowed school lunch programs to meet minimum standards required for federal reimbursements even if they replaced vegetables with a small amount of ketchup. Overnight, vegetables disappeared from school lunch programs and paper containers with a small helping of ketchup appeared on school cafeteria trays. Democratic politicians seized the opportunity to dramatize this USDA snafu, termed ketchupgate, by staging photo ops of democrats dining on nutritionally void meals that met the new lax standards. Newsweek magazine reported the story and the ketchup as a vegetable policy was subsequently abandoned.