Wrong move for Let's Move?
posted on 12/13/2011
Is Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign moving in the wrong direction? The First Lady recently announced that she will focus more on getting kids to be more active. Does this mean less time encouraging food companies to make healthier products for kids and stop marketing junk food to them?
For supporters of a national policy to reduce the selling and marketing of junk food to kids -- among them noted healthy food advocate Marion Nestle -- this apparent shift in focus was more than disheartening. As Nestle points out, there are three main reasons this would be an unfortunate direction: First, a sole focus on physical activity negates the fact that to lose weight, most people still have to eat healthy whether or not they move more. Second, it undermines all the recent work that's been put into getting the message out about healthy diets.
Nestle's third reason -- and perhaps most important of all -- is that a that a shift away from healthy eating "declares victory prematurely" for food manufacturers and marketers. She cites an excerpt from Obama's speech: "Major food manufacturers are cutting sugar, salt and fat from their products. Restaurants are revamping kids' menus and loading them with healthier, fresher option." But as Nestle and others have observed, there have been many promises from food companies but little action.
"The political cost of fighting the food industry is surely the reason for the change in Mrs. Obama's rhetoric," asserted Nestle.
The White House's Let's Move senior policy advisor Sam Kass was quick to respond last week, saying that no pullback away from promoting healthy diets was planned. Instead, he said Obama's speech was intended to inform us about the campaign's expansion into another one of the program's five essential "pillars" which include: creating a healthy start for children; empowering parents and caregivers; providing healthy food in schools; improving access to healthy, affordable foods; and increasing physical activity.
Let's hope Kass' clarification of Obama's comments means that Let's Move is in fact looking to be more comprehensive and not selectively choosing to emphasize one "pillar" over another based on political expediency. As usual, Nestle says it best: "In the broader context of the Let's Move pillars, a focus on physical activity makes sense. It is an addition, not a substitution."
The last thing we need is to pit healthy eating against physical activity. As BMSG director Lori Dorfman and health advocate Toni Yancey pointed out in their 2009 article for Preventive Medicine: Good nutrition and regular physical activity are BOTH necessary for preventing chronic disease. Let's Move should not give up on holding the food industry accountable for selling junk food to children and families while working to keep Americans physically active.