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Playing Politics With Childhood Obesity?

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First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign –– taking on the childhood obesity epidemic –– is an ambitious movement that was launched early February. The goal: “to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.” Mrs. Obama was armed with a "task force" by her husband, President Barack Obama, via a Memorandum on Childhood Obesity, whose mission includes the following objectives: “ensuring access to healthy, affordable food; increasing physical activity in schools and communities; providing healthier food in schools; and empowering parents with information and tools to make good choices for themselves and their families.”

[Cartoon courtesy of John Cole @ MSNBC Political Cartoonists Index]

Sounds like a noble cause, one that happens to be related to my passion and expertise. Despite Mrs. Obama's media rounds — she even appeared on FOX News and in an interview with Mike Huckabee said this is not government intervention — critics have arrived on the playground, including Glenn Beck and others. Concerns range from government’s involvement in our diet to the cost of such a large undertaking as well as which special interest groups will climb into the "obesity backpack." Erupting outside the White House is an angry mob, aka the Tea Party, protesting. Is the government trying to takeover our children's bodies? Are they going to socialize our Cheerios?

What is disturbing is that SEIU has their hands in the “obesity cookie jar." Yeah, the powerful labor organization, which received the back room special deal (Cadillac Tax exemption until 2018) in the Senate's version of the Democrats’ health care bill. The union that is led by the die-hard progressive Andy Stern, the White House's most frequent visitor who was just appointed to the deficit commission.

SEIU launched their own major ad campaign “demanding reauthorization and funding increases" in the Child Nutrition Act. In a January press release, SEIU Executive Vice President Mitch Ackerman had this to say: "A more robust expansion of school lunch, breakfast, summer feeding, child care and WIC is critical to reducing hunger, ending childhood obesity, and providing fair wages and health care for front line food service workers."

In reality, it is much safer to pack your child’s lunch, yet many parents don't have that luxury. So, first and foremost, we need to clean up the school meals, especially the cooked ones. I am sure that the school food servers are nice enough, however, most are not "poster children" for fitness, and do any of them bring to the cafeteria credentials that will help with the childhood obesity problem? Ironically, foods best for health, wellness, and fitness, even when it comes to school meals, require little preparation — like fresh fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains. How difficult is it to cut up some fresh fruit, make a tossed green salad, prepare oatmeal, steam brown rice or veggies, bake a yam, or toast a whole wheat bagel?

While it is admirable to feed and provide nutrition for our children, it is quite another to add your self-serving, power hungry agenda to a decent and pure cause. This reminds me of what the food industry has done to our wholesome foods by adding sugar, salt, trans fats, and other harmful additives and preservatives, thus marketing and selling a product that tastes good, yet fails the health test.

Julie Gunlock of the National Review, who is skeptical of “federalizing fat,” noted that Mrs. Obama was “was murky on the details” of her Let’s Move campaign and that “federally funded child-nutrition programs, along with the WIC program, cost American taxpayers $19 billion in 2007.” Mrs. Obama has called for overhauling many federal laws and guidelines, including adding $10 billion over the next decade to “update” the Childhood Nutrition Act, which feeds 31 million children at school and would add funding to feed more children. Again, admirable, but all large campaigns come with a price tag and generate that "downer" question: how much will Let’s Move cost and who is going to pay?

In a recent article by Mark Bittman of the New York Times, soda may be considered the new "sin." Bittman wrote that the “Obama administration announced a plan to ban candy and sweetened beverages from schools” and that many are pushing for stronger measures to discourage consumption, “urging that soda be treated like tobacco” (i.e.: taxes, warning labels, and a massive public health marketing campaign). Interestingly a tax on soda was one option considered to help pay for health care reform, an idea that President Obama entertained last fall.

Soda and other sugary drinks are bad news for a variety of reasons and I do believe it is prudent to ban certain foods and beverages from our school campuses, while encouraging healthier foods and more water consumption. However, though I am no fan of the food industry, is it fair to single out soda when sugar is a staple in many man-made food products like cookies, pastries, ice cream, cereal, and even in chocolate milk, applesauce, peanut butter, crackers, bread, sauces, and condiments –– the list is endless? Just take a look at any packaged, canned, or bottled food item and you will find sugar in many forms (high fructose corn syrup for one), and unfortunately at the top of the ingredient list.

So, what’s next? Is the government going to brand every fattening and unhealthy food a "sin” and tax it to support more entitlement programs? We don't need "fat police," we need a "truth squad" –– one that will unveil the realities of consuming certain foods and liquids in excess, contributing to weight gain and health issues. For example are the “three evil whites”: sugar, salt, and white flour, as well as America's enormous appetite for the three "F's": fat, fried food, and fast food. Since Mrs. Obama has plans to push for manufacturers to make their labels more “family friendly," many of them should include a warning sticker: "In Excess this Product Can be Hazardous to Your Health and Fattening to Your Body." And instead of a tax on consumers, Mrs. Obama should enlist the food industry (one of the villains in this crisis), including McDonalds and all the rest, to pay for her ambitious and seemingly costly undertaking –– giving them a way to redeem themselves.

When Mrs. Obama, a woman who works out and appears to have a good sense about this issue, broadcast her Let's Move kick-off at the White House, she also announced the creation of a “new, independent foundation," Partnership for a Healthier America, and laid out her plan while noting, “We are going to need to make modest but critical investments in the short run, but we know that that they’re going to pay for themselves likely many times over in the long run.” Mrs. Obama concluded by articulating that "this problem can be solved” and that it “isn't like a disease where we're still waiting for the cure to be discovered, we know the cure for this.” Mrs. Obama is on target because we know that the key to reducing childhood obesity is to get our kids to eat better and exercise more –– something most health professionals and fitness experts have been heralding for decades.

There are so many health risks associated with obesity, like heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, gallbladder disease and gallstones, osteoarthritis, gout, and breathing problems, such as sleep apnea and asthma. Is this the future we want for our children? Well, the future is here.

Childhood obesity is real and unfortunately on the rise. According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, "childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years." What is even more alarming are the health consequences: "Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure." They are also at greater risk of developing Type-2 diabetes, bone and joint problems, and other health issues. Let’s not kid ourselves; other areas are affected when children are overweight or obese; energy levels, mood, and yes, self esteem. Sadly, "obese youth are more likely than youth of normal weight to become overweight or obese adults."

The good news is that we do have the cure (better yet, the prevention) to obesity; it lies in proper diet and exercise; however, the real task at hand is education, motivation, and discipline, of which the latter is much more difficult to cultivate and should never be forced by the government. We don’t need government intervention; we need education and incentives, not mandates and regulations. I just hope they don't mandate tofu on the "anti-obesity menu" and ban my monthly Snickers. If Let’s Move does involve higher taxes and takes away any of our "diet freedoms (and indulgences)," John Cole's cartoon, which I found hilarious, may not be that far-fetched.

Obesity is not partisan –– it strikes both Republicans and Democrats alike –– therefore, we should not play politics in our fight against it. In fact, it is not a political issue at all; it’s a cultural problem that we all can help eradicate, or at least lessen. Moms, dads, uncles, aunts, teachers and all the rest of us can educate ourselves about proper diet and begin an exercise regimen, and then we can lead by example and become a guide and motivator and move our children toward a healthier lifestyle. Our children will reap the rewards of better health and wellness and our country, as a whole, will become more fit –– something we can all agree is a good thing!

What started in the garden at the White House has now become a worthy crusade. Let's hope that the First Lady will ensure Let’s Move truly caters to the health and wellness of our children, and at the end of a decade, and along the way, manifests a concrete and huge difference.

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About Christine Lakatos

  • Pablo,

    Fact Check.org has the ACTUAL story about Michelle Obama’s salary at the University of Chicago Hospital, and needless to say, just like most right wing attacks on her, you paint an entirely wrong impression.

    As far as what Mrs. Obama did at the Hospital…let’s dig further:

    From the Washington Post:
    A few years ago, executives at the prestigious University of Chicago Medical Center were concerned that an increasing number of patients were arriving at their emergency room with what the executives considered to be non-urgent complaints. The visits were costly to the hospital, and many of the patients, coming from the surrounding South Side neighborhood, were poor and uninsured…”

    …”Michelle Obama, an executive at the medical center, launched an innovative program to steer the patients to existing neighborhood clinics to deal with their health needs.
    That effort, in time, inspired a broader program the hospital now calls its Urban Health Initiative…”

    Why is this important? Read closely…especially all you anti-health care reform folks.

    “The medical center markets its initiative as an effort to improve patient health for the poor and at the same time free its resources for emergencies and complicated procedures. The Urban Health Initiative also could save the hospital substantial amounts of money, by removing the nonpaying poor patients from its emergency room.

    “An ER visit for something that’s not an emergency costs the medical center $1,200,” said Kelly Sullivan, a hospital spokeswoman. “That’s sucking up dollars in health care that we don’t all have to just blow through carelessly.”

    In other words, Pablo…this is the FRUIT of that for-profit Health Insurance tree right wingers want to maintain. The resources of the city hospitals are tapped thin because poor people, without access to primary care physicians are using the MOST EXPENSIVE CARE available–the Emergency room, for everything that ails them. And that, in turn, cost the AMERICAN TAXPAYER in the end. Michelle Obama was actually trying to HELP poor people who actually NEEDED urgent care by freeing up resources and directing those who don’t to clinics and other options–which SAVES THE AMERICAN TAXPAYER MONEY.

    But no….that’s not the dark, malevolent narrative you want to paint about Michelle Obama, right Pablo?


  • This petition supports child nutrition. I thought that maybe you would like to see it.

    πŸ™‚ morning, Christine

  • Christine,

    I don’t think we need a truce, I wasn’t trying to give you a hard time. It looks we both have good and bad memories of our own individual education experiences.

    So sorry, that I jumped on two words here, union and teacher. πŸ™‚ You have given me a good idea!

    See those words, food servers, that’s who we need to elevate back to cooks and chefs. It is not such an outrageous idea, that we can provide fresh locally grown fruits and vegetables along with steroid and antibiotic free meats in our schools, once more.

    I went to parochial school. Although the classroom was lacking in resources, the cafeteria sure wasn’t; it was run by Mrs. Ritz. pronounced like the cracker
    She made the best pizza on earth! It was made with fresh home-made dough, and real sauce, cheese, and peperoni; I really miss it, but not the meat!

    πŸ™‚ Well I better go, the wolves are all out now. BTW, I joined digg, so I’m going to go digg your story. “What does it mean to bury one?” nite, Christine

  • Really Jeannie: was never meant an insult to you and my article had nothing to do with teachers; more about SEIU and “food servers.” Don’t know how we digressed to teachers (no pun intended).

    True Story: My track coach/PE teacher, Mr. Wilson, in high school was terrific. He was so nice that he was my stand in for a father I never had and lead me down the “court at the homecoming game.” I was first runner up homecoming queen. On the other hand my volleyball coach, no name, hit on me when I was in high school. Hmmm.


  • Jeannie: I never meant to insult YOU. I am speaking from my own experience with the teachers I have been dealing with since my daughter hit middle (public) school, and it has been horrible. And as I said with a few exceptions. So, let us just leave it at that. Maybe her high school teachers will be better.

  • christine,

    Why do you insult me? I have a total of nine teachers in my family, my husband has taught school for thirty five years, and he is the president of his local chapter of the NYSUT. New York State United Teachers

    Unless you are a teacher or a former-teacher, then you are not speaking from knowledge or experience, but from a generalization.

    The public school system in this country should not have to beg for tax payer money, it should be a given that we teach our children, they are our future.

    I will try to be brief here, Christine, I know that I hold some narrow beliefs and views of my own, but I am trying to see how life is for others.

    :0 Sorry, that I’m so bitchy.

  • Here is your bumper stickers:

    Not all teachers are bad in public schools, just MOST

    Thinking SEIU cares about your KIDS; is like thinking McDonalds cares about our HEALTH!

  • I’ll be back later, OK?

  • That’s a bumper sticker, Christine. It sure sounds like one. :0 Please,Don’t be mad at me, I have a big mouth. LOL

  • Ruvy; thanks for your input. I agree “not all teachers are bad in public schools,” and I can only speak from my experience, of which if I hadn’t kept an eye (two eyes) on them this year, my daughter would of suffered for it in many many ways (not just grades).

  • We didn’t have to deal with the SEIU in Minnesota. We dealt with the MEA. But I will tell you this much. The good teachers at the public elementary school seemed to be on the shit’s list of the union steward there, a lousy teacher who couldn’t teach if her life depended on it.

    Not all teachers are bad in public schools. But all too often, the union is a pack of pigs who do nothing good for education – but know how to read financial statements very well, and know how to walk a picket line very well.

    If I could have, I would have home-schooled my boys in America. I couldn’t afford not to work and make serious money.

  • Thinking that SEIU cares about our kids is like thinking McDonalds cares about our health! What a crock of crap!

  • Christine,

    Not all teachers are awful, and the SEIU is made up of a lot teachers, most of them are retired from the field of teaching.

    I don’t know why you are so anti-union, I can’t figure it out.

    If you where a teacher, you would not want to have lost your profession because you got pregnant with your daughter, would you?

    That is exactly what happened to females in the profession, before the formation of the unions, and it happened not that long ago.

    The teachers’ union has given thousands of people the chance to earn a living wage, and they still have to take summer jobs to make ends meet.

    And concerning the reading remark, sorry, I always think that refers to me.:(

  • Jeannie: I asked the question…

    Again, admirable, but all large campaigns come with a price tag and generate that “downer” question: how much will Let’s Move cost and who is going to pay? Like the other article I linked to (National Review), the details are murky. We have to wait and see.

    SEIU is full of crap! And in this case they are not fighting for just better school lunches, they want much more……and we are broke!

    Plus the teachers in my daughter’s middle school are AWFUL, AWFUL, AWFUL (with very few exceptions)! When she was in private school it was much better and if I could afford it; she would go back!

    The BC comment was not just toward you; it happens all the time.

  • I read your article, thoroughly.

  • Christine,

    The SIEU represents the educators in this country, don’t you think that maybe, school lunches are their business? In fact, it wouldn’t make sense if they didn’t fight for better nutritional standards.

    Not all lobbying is bad, it depends on what the lobby is for. Our children’s future is a pretty good reason to go to Washington, and stand around in the hallways. There’s plenty of room, for Freedom Works.

    I did see you jabbing the Teas, but also the, Let’s Move program, by saying it costs too much. Isn’t this true?

    :)Thank you for talking about something with me!

  • No comment.

  • Yeah, it is sooo funny! It is frustrating when BC’ers don’t read your entire article and miss a KEY point, cartoon, yet, have plenty of criticism.

  • Christine,

    Just noticed it. Looking at the cartoon, in reminds me of the Marry Poppins’ characters at the race track, singing the outrageous song.

  • Jeannie: Thanks; however…

    I am not blaming the SIEU for poor nutrition; just pointing out that they should stay out of this cause.

    Communist plot? Did you see the cartoon? I made fund of that idea. And there was plenty of satire and sarcasm surrounding that issue, yet, still don’t see that we need government intervention, just as the First Lady stated.

    I gave Mrs. Obama praise for taking on this cause and
    When Mrs. Obama, a woman who works out and appears to have a good sense about this issue….” and wished her luck at the end.

  • Christine,

    Your article was Very well written, however:

    [Obesity is not partisan –– it strikes both Republicans and Democrats alike –– therefore, we should not play politics in our fight against it. In fact, it is not a political issue at all; it’s a cultural problem that we all can help eradicate, or at least lessen. Moms, dads, uncles, aunts, teachers and all the rest of us can educate ourselves about proper diet and begin an exercise regimen, and then we can lead by example and become a guide and motivator and move our children toward a healthier lifestyle.]

    If this true, then why are you laying blame for poor nutrition, present in our school lunch program, at the door of the SEIU?

    It was the Reagan administration that lowered nutritional standards, and then the out-sourcing of food began.

    Before, Reagan, we served fresh, nutritious, and delicious meals served by people who knew how to cook!

    In addition, why is everything that could be good for this country seen as a communist plot?

    I like many of your articles, Christine, and I always try to find the positive in them, but I’m not seeing it here.

    On one hand you expound on the virtues of good nutrition, and on the other, you appear to disparage, First Lady Michelle Obama, for trying to do something about the lack of it.

    Which hand will it be?

  • Anonymous

    I really wish I could understand you Americans— you say you are no Obama fans. I mean Why is that exactly? He wasn’t the one that got you in two wars, killing your children overseas everyday, nor where you striken by natural disasters in his term!!
    I guess you were fans of the Bush-the-Butcher, the dumbest US president ever !!!

  • Pablo: I am no Obama fan, however, I did say this cause is worthy, her on the other hand, I don’t know.

  • pablo

    I find the story about Mrs. Obamas 300 grand a year job at the University of Chicago Medical Center,, where one of her primary duties was denying and or short-circuiting the ability of poor people to get emergency care there very revealing about this woman. All that glitters is not gold, she should be ashamed of herself, I am sure shes not though. Btw it was not Michele Malkin who broke this story, of whom I personally abhor.

    Cam you imgagine that, a grand a day 365 days a year, to make it difficult or impossible for indigent people many of whom are the same race as her from getting emergency care! Pablo shakes his head in awe of the audacity of her, as well as her meanness.

  • #3 I am not sure what either have to do with anything

  • That’s the spirit, Christine.

  • Not sure Rog, but it doesn’t matter..it’s all good!

  • Even though you’re a conservative and a woman to boot, Christine?

  • Oh my, I am going to faint! El liked my article.

  • very good article