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Mrs. Obama is on the right track

Posted Feb 16 2010 12:00am
If you ask me, Michelle Obama is doing a bang-up job in her unofficial role as First Health Coach. Within weeks of moving into the White House, she tore up part of the lawn for an organic garden and started supplying vegetables to the White House kitchen and local food charities. Now she’s announced a new campaign to encourage kids to eat better and exercise more, called “Let’s Move.”

Extra props for not calling it “Let’s Lose Weight,” even though the objective is to reduce childhood obesity. Instead, the First Lady’s plan aims to teach kids to make lifestyle choices that will yield many other benefits in addition to weight loss.

As worthwhile a goal as this seems, the plan has its nay-sayers. Some health advocates argue that it doesn’t go far enough. Education doesn’t stand a chance, they say, against the toxic oversupply of corn- and soy-based snacks produced by decades of misguided federal food policy, along with the incessant marketing of such junk to kids. Some critics tack in the opposite direction, complaining the initiative is just another instance of government trying to take over parents’ roles and create a “nanny state.”

I'm unable to take the nanny-staters seriously anymore, but the health advocates have a valid point. Today’s kids really have the deck stacked against them. Not only are they surrounded by empty calories from birth, but now they’re also being pressured to lose weight. If you were trying to promote obesity, eating disorders, and chronic illness, this is precisely the kind of environment you’d design.

In a perfect world, improving kids’ health wouldn’t have to be the First Lady’s pet project, because our legislators would be hard at work overhauling our entire food production system. But as Mrs. Obama’s husband has said, let’s not make “perfect” the enemy of “good.” At least the program creates more opportunities for kids to be active and eat well. For example, it provides funds for sidewalks and crosswalks so kids can walk to school. and it supports the availability of fresh produce in inner cities.

In a way, Michelle Obama’s message of moderation might just be what helps her plan succeed. “There is a place in this life for cookies and ice cream and burgers and fries; that is a part of childhood,” she said last week, as she rolled out the plan. “This is just about balance, about really small changes that can add up, like walking to school when you can, replacing soda with water or skim milk, trimming portions just a little.”

No, the concept isn’t flawless. I, for one, would never recommend skim milk. But it’s a big step in the right direction. And let’s not forget that no matter what our politics, we all want the same thing: healthy kids.
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