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Michelle Obama launches anti-obesity program

The first lady's public-awareness campaign is aimed at getting children to eat better and exercise more. Food and beverage groups pledge to improve calorie labeling and cut fat.

February 10, 2010|By Katherine Skiba
  • Student athletes help First Lady Michelle Obama announce a campaign to combat the rapidly growing problem of childhood obesity.
Student athletes help First Lady Michelle Obama announce a campaign to… (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)

Reporting from Washington — First Lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday launched "Let's Move," a public awareness campaign aimed at conquering childhood obesity, and announced early support for her initiative from the food and beverage industry and the nation's pediatricians, among others.

Obama, speaking from the State Dining Room surrounded by schoolchildren, said that 1 in 3 children in the U.S. are overweight or obese and that pediatricians are seeing more cases of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes.

" 'Let's Move' is a campaign that's going to rally our nation to achieve a single but very ambitious goal, and that's to solve the problem of childhood obesity in a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight," she said.

Americans spend $150 billion a year to treat obesity-related conditions, according to the Let’s Move website. Obesity rates have tripled in the last 30 years, a trend that means children may face a shorter expected life span than their parents.

More is at stake than pounds, Obama said: Teachers report more bullying, counselors describe depression, and military leaders report that obesity "is now one of the most common disqualifiers for military service."

It won't take a feat of technology or stroke of genius to fix the problem, she said, but will instead require the joint efforts of governors and mayors, doctors and nurses, businesses, community groups, educators, athletes and parents.

President Obama also signed a memorandum setting up a task force to review every federal program and policy on childhood nutrition and physical activity within 90 days.

In other developments in the anti-obesity campaign Tuesday:

* The American Beverage Assn. has committed to putting front-of-pack calorie labels on cans, bottles, vending machines and soda-fountain machines within two years.

* The American Academy of Pediatrics says it will call on members to regularly monitor body mass indexes for children age 2 and older.

* Major food suppliers to school cafeterias have pledged to cut sugar, salt and fat and increase whole grains and produce.

* About 40 executives of major food producers and agribusinesses indicated in an open letter that they would join the first lady in promoting healthy eating. Among the signers: the chief executives of Kraft Foods and Sara Lee Corp.

* Major media companies including the Walt Disney Co., NBC, Universal and Viacom committed to join Michelle Obama's effort by running public service announcements. And professional athletes will join the chorus of voices urging kids to put away the video games and to get some exercise.

By the year's end, the Food and Drug Administration will begin working with retailers and manufacturers to adopt new nutrition labels that will be displayed on the front of food packages.

"The first lady's initiative shows that government sees it has an important role in establishing policies that improve the nation's diet and prevent obesity," said Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.

Brownell is a longtime advocate for a tax on sweetened beverages, something the first lady did not mention. California and other states are considering such a levy. Still, he called Michelle Obama's announcement a "breakthrough" and observed: "This, combined with a building wave of actions at state and local levels, signals that profound change is on the way."

kskiba@tribune.com

Tom Hamburger in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.

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