Monday, April 18, 2011

Let's Move! Is Not A Campaign To Ban Food

Sam Kass and Robin Schepper explain the First Lady's balanced approach to combating childhood obesity...
Eating food "is one of the most wonderful things about being a human being," Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass said last week, as he pointed out that First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign is not designed to be a program that marks certain foods as too dangerous for consumption, the way America's anti-smoking campaign has targeted tobacco products.

“Eating is much different than smoking,” Kass told the North American Agricultural Journalists, when the group visited the White House complex for a Let's Move! briefing, according to The Hagstrom Report. Let's Move! Executive Director Robin Schepper was on hand to discuss the initiative, too. (Above: Kass and Schepper during the meeting)

Smoking rates in America have dropped substantially since the start of the anti-smoking campaign in the 1970s, but food--even though there are plenty of people who overindulge, and who risk diet-related disease--is not the same as tobacco, Kass explained.

“Eating is something you must do three times a day," Kass said, adding "It is one of the most wonderful things about being a human being."

On Sunday, Mrs. Obama and the Let's Move! campaign were mentioned in "Sweet and Vicious," the cover story in the New York Times magazine, which parsed the research into sugar that shows it to be a disease-causing substance for humans that is so potentially harmful, it may be a candidate for public policy interventions such as taxation and warning labels, just like tobacco. But the First Lady was mentioned only to point out that she refuses to demonize the food industry for offering America sugar-drenched eating options.

Under Let's Move!, no food is off limits, even sugar and things with a high fat content. The driving idea of the campaign is that less healthy foods must be consumed in moderation rather than as dietary staples, and balanced by an overall healthy diet and lifestyle that includes plenty of physical activity.

"There is nothing you can’t eat at one point,” Kass said.

The First Lady's balance and moderation approach is the same idea that's promoted by doctors and nutrition experts, but it is also one that has caused criticism to rain on Mrs. Obama, as observers who don't understand--or willfully misunderstand--what the campaign is about question the foods that are served at the White House--such as the Super Bowl party menu--or question the First Lady's own eating choices when she dines out at a restaurant and a chef tips the media about her meal.

But Mrs. Obama won't promote healthier eating and exercise with a negative campaign, Kass said, because that “would defeat the comprehensive approach” that the First Lady has taken.

"Life would be boring without a burger and fries," Mrs. Obama has said.

Next Monday's White House Easter Egg Roll is a good example of the "comprehensive approach" in action. The annual South Lawn fun fest has the theme of "Get Up and Go!" to reflect the Let's Move! campaign. There will be healthy cooking demonstrations from the White House chefs and other chefs, as well as sports stations for the kids to play in. But the thousands of young guests will also get a sugary treat in their Easter gift bags. Last year, the kids received marshmallow Peeps in their treat bags, and they also walked away happily clutching fresh fruit they'd chosen from the mini Easter Egg Roll Farmers Market on the South Lawn.

Kids as campaign leaders...
Kass told the visiting journalists that despite the difference in the two campaign approaches, young people must embrace Let's Move! just as they've embraced the anti-smoking campaign, and seatbelt campaigns. Kids must be the leaders in creating a less obesogenic culture, Kass said.

New child-focused Let's Move! PSAs have been created to inspire kids to get on board. These feature young stars of Disney TV shows, such as Nick Jonas, or Sesame Street's Elmo visiting the White House kitchen. Grammy-award winning singer Beyoncé has also joined the campaign, creating the Let's Move! Flash Workout for a national exercise event that will be held in Middle Schools across the US on May 3rd.

Beyoncé gets criticized, too...
But just like the First Lady, Beyoncé, too, has come under fire for her Let's Move! efforts. Beyoncé's role as a spokesman for PepsiCo--nine years ago--makes her a questionable candidate as a spokesman for child health, according to the CBS Interactive Business Network, which recently ran a story headlined "How Beyonce Was For Soda Before She Was Against It." (Above: Beyoncé, in her video, explains her part in the Let's Move! campaign)

Beyoncé is not currently "against" soda, nor is the First Lady. But soda should not be a staple beverage at every meal.

None of the criticism of Let's Move! is breaking the First Lady's stride, it should be noted. Criticism keeps her conversation "alive," Mrs. Obama told her print pool reporters in February.

"I think the debate about what’s served at the Super Bowl and what isn’t -- I think those are good because it makes people ask themselves, “Well, what did I eat at the Super Bowl? And what do we think about for Christmas dinner?” Mrs. Obama said.

Kass and Schepper also spoke about Mrs. Obama's January visit to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where she was briefed on the Army's efforts to combat obesity in incoming recruits. Schepper said she considers these efforts vital because 27 percent of applicants for the military are rejected for weight problems and young people who do enter the military often have dental problems because they have eaten so much sugar.

*Top photo by Charles de Bourbon for The Hagstrom Report; second by Eddie Gehman Kohan/