Monday, March 15, 2010

First Lady Michelle Obama In Newsweek: The Magazine Joins The Campaign

Let's Move! enters Month Two with big support...And the campaign strategist who is helping it all happen...
First Lady Michelle Obama and her child obesity campaign are the cover story for the March 22 issue of Newsweek magazine, which hits newsstands today, and is also available on the internet. The issue features the first essay written by Mrs. Obama for a print outlet, and while it's a tweaked version of her standard Let's Move! stump speech--she changes her remarks a bit, depending on the audience--it's the First Lady's print debut for the campaign.

wsweek has returned the honor of getting the first FLOTUS-penned essay by accompanying it with two features and an online photo gallery that support Mrs. Obama's legacy-making project. Newsweek raises no critical questions about Mrs. Obama's five-week-old campaign, and makes no note of any of the pushback the First Lady has gotten from a variety of corners, from fats rights activists through conservative commentators Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh. Instead, Newsweek seems to have become the newest partner in Mrs. Obama's campaign.

On Wednesday, Mrs. Obama will participate in a Q & A with Newsweek editor Jon Meacham, in a forum at the Newseum in Washington, titled “Challenges and Ways to Promote Health and Wellness in America’s Communities." Meacham specializes in politics, religion in history and civil rights issues, and his book American Lion won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for biography. It should make for a very interesting session. Will Meacham ask any hard questions about the campaign, or about child obesity?

Paradigm shift...
Meantime, Newsweek's coverage of Let's Move!, in terms of the unbridled support Mrs. Obama enjoys, stands out as something that in another era (perhaps, six months ago) would have been more likely to appear in, say, O, Oprah Winfrey's magazine, or one of the Rodale titles such as Men's Health or Women's Health (Mrs. Obama and President Obama were featured in four different health-oriented Rodale titles last September, with three cover stories). It's good evidence for the paradigm shift Mrs. Obama has inspired in our national conversation about food and health. Sure, there are hardcore stats in the Newsweek stories that accompany Mrs. Obama's essay, but the overall feeling is one of total advocacy, and the articles mirror different elements of Mrs. Obama's multi-faceted campaign. Even the headline on the cover of the magazine--Feed Your Children Well--sounds like it was developed for the Let's Move! campaign. Get the double meaning there? "Well" is a verb, not an adjective.

Writer Claudia Kalb's Culture of Corpulence in Newsweek lays out the statistics and cultural changes that have led to the pandemic of obesity in America and in developed nations around the globe (dubbed "globesity"), and reinforces all the reasons Mrs. Obama's campaign is necessary. Kalb might've penned some of the Let's Move! campaign literature:

But it's America that has become the world's preeminent fat-making machine. To dismantle it we need a coordinated, comprehensive plan of attack, one that pairs individual responsibility with a social construct that fosters good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. We need to be surrounded by food that makes us well, not sick. We need schools and workplaces that reward us for exercising our bodies, not just our brains.

Newsweek also does a terrific service for Let's Move! by making Mrs. Obama's campaign seem entirely reasonable. Kalb cites two experts in the obesity field who are calling for far more governmental intervention than Mrs. Obama, who has repeatedly noted in her public remarks that her campaign is not about government intervention (even though there are critical pieces of government intervention required for the campaign to succeed, such as funding and retooling the federal school breakfast and lunch program). Kalb cites Dr. David Kessler, a former FDA commissioner and author of "The End of Overeating," who theorizes that food companies purposefully create food addiction, and Kelly Brownell, the head of Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, who believes that food companies can't be left to their own devices to self-regulate their unhealthy offerings. Kalb writes:

Public-health advocates are taking on Big Food just as their predecessors took on Big Tobacco. Dr. David Kessler, the former head of the FDA, argues that the fattening of America has happened by design as food companies intentionally manufactured irresistible cocktails of sugar, fat, and salt. Manufacturers' efforts to do better don't assuage Kelly Brownell , head of Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. "The country defaults to giving industry the benefit of the doubt," he says. "Industry says you don't need to regulate us; we'll police ourselves. The tobacco industry abused that with God knows how many lives as a consequence. To expect the food industry to be different may be wishful thinking."

Mrs. Obama has not yet called Big Food the New Big Tobacco. Instead, she's currently engaging in what Brownell calls "wishful thinking." Tomorrow, Mrs. Obama will speak at the Grocery Manufacturers Association 2010 Science Forum, and ask the nation's Big Food companies, including Archer Daniels Midland, ConAgra, Campbell Soup Company, Cargill, Hershey, General Mills, PepsiCo, Nestle USA, Diamond Foods, Dean Foods, Sara Lee, and Welch Foods to voluntarily create healthier food offerings. On its website, GMA trumpets the fact that Association members have already reduced the salt, fat and sugar content of 10,000 foods, and they immediately pledged to support Let's Move! when it was launched. (Note: In her Newsweek essay, Mrs. Obama references her speech to the GMA membership in the past tense).

Newsweek accompanies Mrs. Obama's essay online with a photo gallery of obese Americans and obesogenic entities, and each picture has a paragraph about the obesity epidemic that supports Mrs. Obama's position. McDonald's will not be happy about this particular featurette; across a photo of the Golden Arches is the statistic that 46% of restaurants in underprivileged neighborhoods are fast food. "Who really needs a 42-ounce soda and a 990-calorie burger with cheese?" is the accompanying editorial comment. This part of the Newsweek coverage mirrors Mrs. Obama's push to end food deserts--those places where junk food is far more widely available than fresh, healthy foods (Kalb goes in to food deserts as well). Making food affordable and accessible, particularly for non-white communities, is one of the pillars of Let's Move!. Mrs. Obama's first road trip for the campaign on Feb. 18, to Philadelphia, highlighted this part of the initiative. (Above: From Newsweek online)

Newsweek is also running Strong Medicine, by Claire McCarthy, MD, an essay that holds that doctors "must do more to fight the battle of the bulge." Let's Move! has a doctor component, as well as the support of the American Academy of Pediatrics, among many other medical entities (such as Kaiser Permanente). Doctors have been asked to join the campaign by monitoring children's BMI, as well as by literally writing prescriptions for health (eat more vegetables, move more...). American Academy of Pediatrics president Judith Palfrey, MD, was at the White House launch of Let's Move!, and she also joined Mrs. Obama and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin for a pre-launch event, when Benjamin debuted her position paper on child obesity and national health. Dr. McCarthy's bio notes that she's a pediatrician at Children's Hospital Boston, which makes her a colleague of Dr. Palfrey's.

The print version of Newsweek is also featuring a full-page ad inside the magazine, as well as an ad that's the entire back cover, by the National Dairy Council (NDC), for their Fuel Up to Play 60 campaign, a child obesity initiative that's a companion project to Let's Move!. FUP60 is a joint project between USDA, NDC, and the NFL, and features NFL players encouraging kids to eat healthy foods and get sixty minutes of active play every day. And of course, drink their milk.

Behind the scenes...
None of the Big Media support for Let's Move! is happening by accident, of course. Mrs. Obama has an experienced team working in the East Wing, but as Daily Flotus writer Lynn Sweet was the first to point out, political consultant Stephanie Cutter was also hired by the White House to develop the Let's Move! messaging strategy. Among other high-profile positions, Cutter was the chief spokesperson for the Obama Biden Transition Team. Her most recent outing with the Obama administration was micromanaging Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor's Senate confirmation campaign. For Let's Move!, Cutter worked with the White House teams dealing with outside foundations, the medical community, the East and West Wings' domestic policy shops and other entities, according to Sweet. "Exclusives" from the Obama White House tend to be doled out judiciously, and that's going on with Let's Move!, as much as it has with other White House topics. For the campaign launch, USA Today got the exclusive details for a cover story feature on the campaign, which ran the evening before the event at the White House, and that, too, had no negative facts about the campaign. The story was all about the dire child health epidemic, and the equally dire need for Mrs. Obama's project.

In addition to wide-ranging coverage by the media, including a host of campaign-related TV appearances by Mrs. Obama, the White House has amped up its in-house video production unit. Since Feb. 9, six different Let's Move! videos have been posted on the official White House website, including one from Mississippi GOP Governor Haley Barbour, who lauded the campaign. Even this year's 2010 White House Easter Egg Roll is focused on the Let's Move! campaign, with the theme of Ready, Set, Go! and a running Easter Bunny as logo.

It's all the kind of effort that's needed to combat what has become a seemingly intractable problem. There's never before been a First Lady with a food policy message, and this one is professionally crafted, and apparently unassailable. Newsweek, with the current issue, is as much a position paper, and in support of Mrs. Obama's campaign, as the Surgeon General's own Vision For a Fit and Healthy Nation 2010.

Related: A transcript of Mrs. Obama's Newsweek essay is here. A White House video about the launch of Let's Move! is here. The First Lady stars in a White House video about food deserts here. Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! rally in Jackson, Mississippi is featured in this White House video. The White House video of Governor Barbour praising Mrs. Obama's campaign is here. The White House video of President Obama signing the memo creating a Task Force on Child Obesity is here. A White House video of a mini-summit on child obesity, featuring Mrs. Obama, the Surgeon General, and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is here.

*Photos: Newsweek