Home / Blog / Article


April 28 2016

Move On Michelle Obama, Your Obesity Pet Project Doesn’t Work

Patrice J. Lee

First Lady Michelle Obama made childhood obesity her pet project and did everything from dancing with a turnip to pushing for draconian school lunch regulations that led to protests by hungry, angry students. And then she's been defiant about fighting Congress and school systems that try to push back. Turns out all of her efforts were for naught because childhood obesity rates have actually increased.

FLOTUS’s Let’s Move Campaign has been a dog-and-pony show for years, yielding not much more than spent political will for all of her effort. New research by Duke University researchers analyzing national child obesity rates for youth ages 2 to 19 years old found an across the board increase in obesity levels from 1999 to 2014 despite public policy efforts targeting childhood obesity. The increase in severe obesity is especially striking and different from the results of other oft-cited research.

According to the NIH, there are multiple body mass index levels which tell parents where their kids fall. For 2013 – 14, 33.4 percent of children were overweight, 17.4 percent for class I obesity, 6.3 percent for class II obesity, and 2.4 percent for class III obesity (or extremely obese). These increases from are up from 1999 levels of 28.8 percent, 14.6 percent, 4 percent, and 0.9 percent, respectively. In all four of these  classes, the rates increased except for a decline from 2003 – 2004 --well before the Obamas made it to the White House.

The report concludes that government policies such as those that alter the fat and sodium in school lunches or ban trans fats and sodas may have marginal impacts, but not the sweeping impacts that politicians like our “favorite” former Nanny State Mayor and First Lady lead us to believe:

The report notes:

There is no evidence of a change in obesity prevalence in any age group, despite substantial clinical and policy efforts targeting the issue…

Although the prevalence of obesity in children is regularly reported, as new data become available, there are several critical reasons for ongoing examination of obesity prevalence and trends in prevalence. First, additional years of data allow for a more nuanced examination of trends... Only with the inclusion of several previous years and following years is it apparent that the greater prevalence did not represent a long-term trend…

Understanding the ongoing trends in obesity is also very important for public health and policy makers. While our study is unable to specifically link any policies or interventions to changes in obesity prevalence, our results fail to show an indication that current policies have had a sweeping effect on obesity, though it is always possible that the policies were effective and other worsening simultaneous trends were at play.

The White House has been silent on this comprehensive multi-year research that doesn’t just isolate one year’s data to search for good news. Earlier last year, Michelle Obama and the Obama Administration touted research that found declines in childhood obesity, but apparently, this research only isolated poor children, not kids from families of all income levels.

The Daily Caller investigated and found out that the White House pressured researchers to pull out the highlights from the report to publicize:

That study, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that obesity rates for that age group fell from 13.9 percent in 2003-2004 to 8.4 percent in 2011-2012.

Even though obesity rates remained stagnant for older children — and increased for adults — the CDC focused its public relations effort on the decrease in rates for young children. Its press release included a quote from Michelle Obama, who gave a shout-out to “Let’s Move!”…

The first lady was also quoted in that piece, leaving the impression that her initiative had something to do with making children skinnier.

But many CDC scientists were skeptical of linking that decrease to “Let’s Move!” or any other government initiative.

A Daily Caller investigation revealed that the White House put pressure on CDC officials to spin the press release to focus on the one glimmer of hope in that study. Emails obtained by TheDC for its investigation showed that CDC scientists felt the study’s findings were tenuous but that the upcoming 4th anniversary of “Let’s Move!” was “driving the [White House] interest” in the study.

Data can be sliced and diced to support just about any policy position, but it takes humility and a desire for the truth to accept when you've been proven wrong. I doubt we'll hear from the First Lady about this research nor will DC food regulators scale back their onerous regulations on school lunches. For them, it's not the health of kids that they worry about, but pushing forward an agenda that aims to control the decisions of regular Americans. For those families who home school their kids or can afford private options, they are spared the government's reach. Unfortunately, for too many poor and working class families with kids stuck in a failing public school system, they are resigned to hardship.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
Follow us