First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama (FLOTUS) has taken a firm stand to combat childhood obesity during her time in the White House. Launching the “Let’s Move!” campaign for children’s health and wellness in 2010, she stated, “The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.” Her mention of the impact childhood obesity has on mental health is supported by Catherine Davis, associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Georgia, who notes, “Overweight kids are more likely to have depression and low self-esteem [than other kids].” The current successes and failures of FLOTUS’s policy changes are being brought to light during September’s National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month.
Implementing various policy changes affecting children nationwide, FLOTUS’s actions have certainly had an effect on the public’s mindset surrounding childhood obesity. The “Let’s Move!” campaign is “dedicated to solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams.” Though well-intentioned, many critics question whether this campaign and President Obama’s subsequent Task Force on Childhood Obesity are actually helping curb childhood obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rates of childhood obesity nationwide have not decreased since the implementation of these programs. However, the task force has a long-term goal of reducing the rates of childhood obesity by 5 percent by 2030, the success of which it is too early to determine.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was developed by FLOTUS to follow through on her desires to implement “healthier” and lower-calorie menus in school cafeterias. This includes the National School Lunch Program, which has received backlash from officials and students alike. John S. Payne, president of Indiana’s Blackford County School Board of Trustees, notes that children and adolescents have turned to selling salt and pepper packets on campus in response to the presumably bland meals introduced with this new program. However, Payne believes that the movement is not a lost cause. He explains, “When local school districts have the authority and flexibility to make adjustments honoring the spirit and intent of the law, they can provide students with healthy, nutritious and appetizing meals.” In the meantime, students nationwide have taken to social media, posting photos of their unappealing meals with the hashtag “#ThanksMichelleObama.”
FLOTUS has a strict standard for what she considers healthy eating, which she has not shied away from sharing with the public. For example, she helped develop a vegetable garden on the White House South Lawn and infamously banned Kraft macaroni and cheese from being served in the White House. As FLOTUS states, “…we stopped eating macaroni and cheese out of a box, because cheese dust is not a food…” However, some argue that these food restrictions and the demonization of certain food choices send the wrong message to the American public, including children struggling with obesity. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that “35 percent of ‘normal dieters’ progress to pathological dieting… [and that] of those, 20 to 25 percent progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.”
Despite the speed bumps in FLOTUS’s policy changes, she remains optimistic. She notes, “Five years ago, people looked at me like I was crazy because they said it wasn’t an issue…And today we have seen changes, improvements in school lunches…And kids are getting active during the day. It’s just been a real culture shift.” Regardless of the successes and failures of various policies in recent years, the truth remains that children struggling with childhood obesity are at high risk of developing mental health issues. Sovereign Health Group specializes in treating individuals struggling with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.
Childhood obesity part 4: Helping children develop a healthy relationship with food
Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer