A couple of years ago I was invited to the White House to interview First Lady Michelle Obama about the health of our children and her Let’s Move campaign aimed at reducing childhood obesity. At the time I was editor in chief of Parenting magazine, and to say I was honored to meet her and nervous about interviewing her are both complete understatements.
To my pleasant surprise, Mrs. Obama was sincere, thoughtful and incredibly vivacious, and she put me right at ease. We talked about her childhood in Chicago, and the nightly family dinners she enjoyed with her parents and brother inside their south side apartment. She told me how pizza and fast food were occasional treats and that the only time her family really went out for dinner was when they were celebrating a great report card.
Then we talked about the kids, our kids, as in every single American child, and how the world today prompts us to eat more and exercise less, leaving children vulnerable to a lifetime of health problems and a lack of both energy and self confidence. She wanted every child to have the same healthy experience she’d had, but she knew that it was not only not happening, it was downright impossible for so many families. Fresh food has long been scarce in schools and in many communities, and finding the time, let alone the energy, to exercise with our kids was almost laughable to many exhausted Americans expected to work longer hours than most developed nations. Her voice rose slightly when she talked about the scary statistics regarding the future of our children’s health, her hands moving in front of her chest as she strove to make her point. This was a woman committed to spending her time in the White House finding solutions.
Yesterday a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association announced there has been a 43 percent decline in obesity rates among 2- to 5-year-olds over the past decade. While we can’t place the credit for this good news squarely on the shoulders of the First Lady, I think she deserves a lot of credit. She tackled one of the biggest problems facing our country and our kids in particular, and for the first time in history, there is light to look forward to, at least in part because of her.
Yesterday Mrs. Obama also announced new limits on the types foods that can be marketed to kids in schools. This comes on the heels of many more programs and initiatives, such as the Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that provided schools with more subsidized meals and gave school officials a chance at reducing the costs of serving fruits and vegetables. Even the USDA has taken action in recent years, replacing the staid Food Pyramid with something called MyPlate, which emphasizes filling half the plate with healthy produce, and a quarter each of lean protein and whole grains. But the USDA didn’t stop there. It also pushed schools to offer more fresh foods and reduce the amounts of fat and sodium offered to kids.
I’m often struck by critics who say the government should butt out of our lives and leave us alone. If the government had not intervened in the matter of our children’s health, I’m not sure we’d all be high-fiving each other about these latest statistics affecting our country’s most precious resources. America is a coveted democracy where the individual and the government can come together to find solutions to our problems. Every once in a while when we let that happen, magic occurs, and our kids’ lives are better for it.
I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to get up and move.