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Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ Is Losing Its Footing

June 28th, 2011

    First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign, launched on February 9, 2010, initially closely fit what obesity research data calls for, with its focus on children and its attention to exercise and better eating (rather than dieting), including its very title, “Let’s Move.”  At the launch, the first lady announced four major areas of focus: providing parents with the resources and education they need to make informed healthy decisions for their kids, providing healthy food in schools, improving access to healthy affordable foods, and increasing physical activity.

    In May, the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, which was created at the launch of Let’s Move, unveiled its report entitled “Solving the Problem of Childhood Obesity within a Generation,” which laid out 70 recommendations to help end childhood obesity in five categories (the four pillars laid out at the Let’s Move launch, and a fifth category, “Early Childhood,” focused on prenatal care and educating new parents about nutrition and physical activity). The First Lady described the report as a “road map” for Let’s Move.

    The press, in reporting about the initiative, paid more mind to the diet elements than to the exercise ones.  We examined the articles published in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post from February 9, 2010 (the announcement of the program) through October 2010 whose full text contained the phrases “Let’s Move” and “Michelle Obama.” Out of 42 results, we found that only 7 headlines mentioned physical activity or exercise, while 18 headlines mentioned food, diet, or nutrition (the remaining 17 headlines were neutral). These headlines include “Obama Administration Aims to Push Candy and Sugary Drinks Out of Schools,” “Can Michelle Obama Put America’s Children on a Diet?” and “Ridding Schools of Junk Food.”

    In a direct response to Let’s Move, on May 18, the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a coalition of major food manufacturers, including Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, and PepsiCo, announced a commitment to eliminate 1 trillion calories from their products by 2012 and 1.5 trillion by the end of 2015. Together, the companies supply over 20 percent of the food consumed in the U.S.

    In June, the White House launched a national adopt-a-school program called Chefs Move to Schools, in which professional chefs (more than 1,000 had signed up at the time of the launch) work closely with school administrators and families to help overhaul school lunches and teach children and parents about healthy eating.

    The Department of Agriculture initiated an online competition that challenged game designers to create online tools and games for kids that promote healthy foods and active lifestyles. The winners were announced in late September.

    The child nutrition act (officially, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act) was passed by Congress and signed by the President in December. The Act aimed to ensure food sold in schools met more rigorous nutritional guidelines, to increase the amount of money schools could be reimbursed for meals, and to expand the number of low-income students eligible for free and reduced-price school lunches.

    Thus, as the program evolved, the focus turned to caloric intake and not expenditure.

    We were unable to find much evidence about implementing the exercise parts of the Let’s Move initiative. This is particularly relevant because of the scaling back and cancellation of physical education classes due to budget cuts.  In 2006, only 3.8 percent of elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle schools, and 2.1 percent of high schools provided the minimum level of weekly physical activity as recommended by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (150 minutes per week for elementary-school-aged children and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students).

    Only eight states require that students take physical education every year from first through twelfth grade. 22 states (43 percent) allow required physical education credits to be earned through online courses. Less than one-third of all children ages 6-17 engage in “vigorous activity” (physical activity for at least 20 minutes that makes the child sweat and breathe hard).

    One cannot help but wonder how and why a program that started so well is leaning so heavily in one direction, when it would do much better if it moved on both legs.

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    5 Trackbacks for “Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ Is Losing Its Footing”

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    3 Responses to “Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ Is Losing Its Footing”

    1. mkerkel Says:

      There is no doubt that Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign is a good thing. But can there be too much of a good thing? Is it possible that this movement has been spread too thin to accomplish all of its goals? The so-called roadmap of this program includes 70 recommendations. I believe these recommendations to be worthwhile and important, but perhaps selecting fewer changes would make implementing, supporting, evaluating and continuing these recommendations more feasible. I do commend this campaign in recruiting major manufacturers, professional chefs, and various government departments. Including more resources should make implementing the plethora of recommendations more feasible.

      I can see the concern that the focus of this campaign has turned to the avenue of food and diet, while exercise has been left behind. I agree that the two (diet and exercise) should go hand in hand. For this campaign to be successful, both avenues should implement changes. The bottom line for encouraging exercise and physical activity is to utilize the school system. I understand that it is a challenge because not all schools have the resources for physical education equipment, playgrounds or gymnasiums. But just as help has been recruited to provide children with healthier lunches, couldn’t this campaign find corporations willing to donate money for playgrounds and PE equipment? Teaching children and families about healthy eating habits and the benefits of physical activity is part of preventive health care. When preventive health care measures are not taken, the end result is more expensive and extensive interventions. Promoting health and wellness beginning in childhood has the potential to decrease obesity, hypertension and diabetes. The goal is to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation, but has childhood obesity taken only a generation to occur? I think not. Regardless, we should stick with supporting healthy diets, daily exercise and preventive health care to make a better future for our children.

    2. WV JOE Says:

      It is ashame that politicians and some in the news media cannot see beyond political party lines. The health issues of children, teens and adults are a major driving cost of increased health costs. The life expectancy of children sentering schools since the year 2000, is predicted to be less than their parents. The “Baby Boomers” from the 1940s and early 1950s are the last generations to enjoy a long life and retirement. Someway legislators in states and the Congess have to see the reality of bad health habits. If people practiced Lifetime Wellness habits and good diets, health costs could be brought under control in time. But, the insurance companies, drug companies, and other medical agencies will not be making so much money. Gee, in a society driven by money there evidently is no money to be made in people being healthy. Let’s Move In School is a great awareness program to enlighten children, teens and adults about the importance of physical activity and good nutrition, but politicians want to turn it into an us vs the Obama family arguement. Wake up America-the 3 most important things in life are 1-personal spirituality; 2- family and friends; 3-your health. So, why are politicians turning personal health into a political arguement against the current Democrats in the White House?

    3. Russ Pillar Says:

      It’s clear that the conversation around Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative has focused more on diet than exercise, but that fact belies all of the good work being done by countless organizations to increase the level of kids’ physical activity. The relative silence isn’t a failure of the programs themselves; rather, it’s symptomatic of the leadership vacuum and paucity of resources available to help get the message out to a wider audience.

      From the New York Road Runner’s plethora of programs ( to the Big Sur International Marathon’s Just Run initiative (, there’s no shortage of worthy activities ready to be tried (see or for a sampling). Our challenge is to get kids to try them. That’s something we at Running USA are working hard to effect.

      We look forward to our brethren not only at other running organizations but in other sports, too, joining us on this most important journey.

      Russ Pillar
      Chair, National Youth Running Initiative, Running USA

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