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5 Ways The Let’s Move Campaign Will End Childhood Obesity
Michelle Obama, first lady since January 2009, has made good use of her time in office. Starting with conversations on the White House garden, she launched the Let’s Move campaign – taking on the mission to end childhood obesity in America in one generation. An almost modest goal, that all children reach adulthood at a normal weight will take continuous and comprehensive action by all sectors of society. To that end, Let’s Move is reaching out to parents, children, elected officials, schools, community leaders, and health care providers—every sector of society—to ensure that everyone does their part.
Childhood obesity education
Before someone is motivated to act, they need to understand that there is a reason to do it. The first way Mrs. Obama’s campaign is targeting apathy is to simply educate the public about the desperate place we are. Consider these alarming statistics:
In the last 30 years, a trinity of obese children was recorded in America, so that today 1 out of every 3 minors is overweight (too much weight for their height) or obese (too much body fat for their height), and in fact, 1 out of every 3 Americans. It is estimated that Americans today eat almost a third more calories for the day than they did in 1960, including alarming amounts of fats and sugars. Such a drastic change cannot help but harm the body. It is known that the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer, asthma and many other conditions increases with obesity.
We can no longer pretend that this is an individual issue. With the obesity epidemic among our children, we all need to take responsibility for creating a healthier environment. But instead of being overwhelmed by this responsibility, the Let’s Move campaign presents clear and achievable steps to enable a healthy future.
Start eating healthy
After educating the problem, the Let’s Move campaign educates the public about the solution. The first step in a healthier lifestyle is to understand how to eat right. The disturbing trends of the last few decades stem from radical differences in the way we eat and what we eat. Not only are portion sizes out of control, but people also often don’t know the quality (or poor quality) of the food they eat. In short, people do not know what is good for them. And if adults don’t inform, children even less. However, information is available now more than ever and it is the responsibility of parents and caregivers to receive information and pass the information on to the next generation.
The Food and Drug Administration, the government agency that regulates the food industry, requires most distributors of prepared foods (canned, boxed, bagged) to mark their products with the nutritional information label detailing the portion size, calorie content and plenty of other information. In 2009, Commissioner Dr. Margaret Hamburg announced several new initiatives for the FDA, including sending warning letters to companies that misrepresent their products and working with the food industry to introduce front-of-package labeling that will allow consumers to make healthier choices even more easily.
While labels help families be more informed about the food they consume at home, the fact is that most people eat a large percentage of their food outside the home. Whether from restaurants, schools, snack shops or vending machines, a lot of food doesn’t come packaged with reliable information. But that’s no longer an excuse. The USDA website provides clear and comprehensive information on the new food pyramid (updated from the old grains-on-the-bottom model that adults may be familiar with), which outlines the components of a balanced meal day. Unlike the old version, Food Pyramid 2.0 includes the importance of physical activity and redistributes the servings per day for each food category. This site and hundreds of others that provide quality food information put healthy choices within reach of all Americans.
Along with educating children and families on how to eat right, the Let’s Move campaign aims to make a tangible difference by helping schools lead the way. With school budgets tight across the country, more and more junk food has made its way into the public school system and into our children’s bodies, usually because it’s cheap, convenient and long-lasting. However, when the long-term costs of obesity (higher health care costs) are factored in, cutting corners during childhood is no longer a viable option. School administrators and parents need to get involved and change school choices so that children can learn better while they are in school and live better while they are not.
Along with learning what to put in our bodies, Americans need to learn how to use their bodies to keep them in tip-top shape. The USDA claims that children and teens should get 60 minutes of physical activity daily, while adults should get at least 30 on a regular basis. Most Americans do not meet these standards, and to some they seem unattainable. However, getting enough physical activity into the day is just a matter of priorities. The average American child (8-18) spends 7.5 hours daily on entertainment media. The Let’s Move campaign means changing this by mobilizing families, schools and communities.
Every family’s schedule and lifestyle is different, so building an extra activity will look different in each case. For one family this may mean deciding to go anywhere that is less than a mile from home; On the other hand, it may be a family tradition of four squares in the parking lot. Opportunities to be active can become fun and build family togetherness. Do jumping jacks in the morning in your PJs, dance around the kitchen to your favorite songs, ride your bike to the park, or see who can swing the highest on the swings. Children love to be active, and they love it even more if they get to spend quality time with their parents. But even if you can’t keep the child away from the screen, entertainment media also has a lot of activity options. Nintendo’s Wii Fit, or the popular Dance Revolution, or even simple YouTube videos like Exercise with Daniel can get kids up and running without even knowing it.
Of course, a significant part of the children’s days are spent at school, so the schools are also responsible for building the movement into the schedule, along with educating the students about its importance. Making physical education a priority, providing time for recess, extending and supporting after-school sports, and even integrating physical education into the academic curriculum are all ways schools can help students be their healthiest selves. There is more research every day that establishes the benefit of movement in learning – a healthy body creates a healthy mind.
Communities can encourage citizens to live healthy lives by building infrastructure that supports it. Bike paths, parks, safe routes to and from schools, activity centers and youth programs make physical activity comfortable and attractive. Initiatives that make group memberships cheaper, offer scholarships for sports involvement or educate underprivileged students about opportunities in the area can have a positive impact on children’s lives.
Help people act
Because change can be overwhelming, let’s move the “5 Simple Steps to Success” outline for any group it seeks to educate: parents, children, elected officials, schools, community leaders, health care providers, and even chefs.
For example, the five steps for chefs are as follows:
1) Join the Chefs Going to Schools initiative. This step encourages chefs to “adopt” a school and work within it to educate students, families and administrators about nutritious options and exciting new foods. The Let’s Move website helps chefs find schools (and chefs in schools) with an interactive, searchable map.
2) Take on the HealthierUS School Challenge. Once a school is adopted, chefs can help schools apply to be a HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSCC) school by meeting various criteria. The USDA: Food and Nutrition Services website describes the incentives offered to schools that meet the requirements.
3) Learn about child nutrition programs. In order to be effective in school adoption, chefs can educate themselves about current child nutrition programs and assess what can be improved.
4) Preparation for class. When approaching a school, a chef should ask good questions about the school’s goals and what its current production is. Where does the food come from? What equipment does the kitchen have? Does the menu need an overhaul?
5) Find recipes for success. Recipes for success are innovative ideas that have worked well. Whether a chef gets them from somewhere else or thinks them up himself, sharing ideas across the country can only help us build healthier schools faster.
Join people together
Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign sounds like an amazing idea. But that’s all it will ever be if Americans don’t take it personally and seriously. To ensure this becomes a movement and not just a motto, there are clear ways to get involved. Along with tracking the action steps on the action step page, every citizen is invited to take the Let’s Move pledge and receive updates by email, join a regional Let’s Move Meetup to plan local activities and strategy, and join the Partnership for a Healthier America, which focuses on recruiting leadership across sectors to lead the way for health Anyone can join the conversation on Facebook as well
The Let’s Move campaign is a call to action against childhood obesity that cannot be ignored. In the words of the pledge,
“We believe that every child has the right to a healthy childhood. We cannot let this be the first generation in our history to grow up less healthy than their parents. The ingredients…better food + more activity… are clear. Let’s Move is not only noble, it Necessary. It’s not just a slogan, it’s our responsibility.”
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