In a piece that ran in the Wall Street Journal last week, the first lady suggests it might be “Mission Accomplished” in the war on fat. She modestly says that we still have a long way to go before the nation is fully bikini-ready, but suggests to readers that programs such as her “Let’s Move” initiative haveturned the tide on obesity.
Does the first lady really deserve the credit for the nation’s collective weight loss?
First, here is the good news for which Mrs. Obama and her campaign claim credit: Childhood obesity rates are declining nationwide. In New York City, officials reported a 5.5 percent reduction in the number of obese schoolchildren since 2007. Other big cities posted similar progress, with Philadelphia reporting a 5 percent decline and Los Angeles 3 percent.
Certainly, the first lady can be praised for raising awareness about obesity, yet this trend began long before Let’s Move launched in 2010. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control reports that the number of overweight and obese children leveled off over ten years ago and that, as the data from New York illustrate, the downward trend began in 2006 — before Ms. Obama was even a resident in the White House. Perhaps Ms. Obama should have invited Mrs. Bush to ride along on the victory tour.
Certainly, the first lady deserves credit for highlighting the unhealthy eating habits of American children and for trying to make exercise and healthier eating cool to young kids. Yet this good news sours when one considers the Let’s Move campaign’s biggest impact: expanding government and further distancing children from the only people who can really make a difference in the foods they eat — their parents.
Thanks to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act — the signature legislative accomplishment of the Let’s Move campaign — more kids than ever before get institutional cafeteria food, with some getting as many as three school meals a day rather than food prepared by Mom and Dad at home. In fact, the bill actually requires states to demonstrate that they are working to increase the rate of enrollment in public meal programs.
This explosion in school feeding programs means parents have less and less involvement in the basic parental responsibility of feeding their children. More important, Mrs. Obama unwittingly sent a message to the very people most at risk for obesity — the poor — that they’re not part of the solution.
Why is this considered progress?
The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act also added billions of taxpayer dollars to the already badly broken and wasteful federal school-meal program. What have we gotten for these expensive “improvements?” Massive food waste (cafeterias are forced to serve kids food that inevitably ends up in the trash); hungry children; outraged parents; less-healthy meat on lunch trays; and, not surprisingly in Washington, renewed calls for . . . wait for it . . . reform of the school-lunch program.
Mrs. Obama often defends her pet project by saying, “The core of this effort is really giving parents information and better choices.” If that were actually the goal, why the push toward government solutions rather than a call to be better, more involved parents? Why isn’t the first lady disseminating all the studies showing that parental involvement is critical to a child developing healthy eating habits?
In reality, the Let’s Move campaign wasted a valuable opportunity to encourage parents to do more for their kids. Yet parents are marginalized in this debate. In fact, in her 749-word Wall Street Journal piece, the word “parent” is used just once. That’s sad considering what kids really need are parents who pay attention to them and teach them healthy eating habits.
I’ll start celebrating with the first lady when she admits that it’s parents, not government, who really deserve the applause.
Julie Gunlock is director of the Culture of Alarmism and the Women for Food Freedom projects at the Independent Women's Forum.