(NNPA)—Michelle Obama has now challenged Americans to deal with the growing problem of obesity in children. Childhood obesity has tripled in the last thirty years. Nearly one-third of US children are now overweight or obese; nearly one in three will eventually suffer from diabetes. In the African-American and Latino communities, the proportion is almost one in two.


This is, the First Lady said, possibly “an even greater threat to America’s health than smoking” with staggering costs. A recent study put the health care cost of obesity related diseases at $147 billion a year. Obesity is now one of the most common disqualifiers from military service.

Michelle Obama has made this her centerpiece initiative, called Let’s Move. She is sensibly focusing on the conditions that lead children to eat bad food, and to not exercise. “Our kids did not do this to themselves,” she said. “Our kids don’t decide what’s served to them at school or whether there’s time for gym classes or recess. Our kids don’t choose to make food products with tons of sugar and sodium in super-sized portions, and then to have those products marketed to them everywhere they turn.”

So the first lady has put the focus on changing school lunches, altering the fast food environment (like shutting down the junk food machines outside the school cafeteria door), educating parents, providing access to affordable healthy food (like ending the “food deserts” in our urban areas that are deprived of access to a grocery store with fresh vegetables), and encouraging exercise.

Her initiative combines both personal responsibility and public action. She wants clear labeling to help parents understand what is in the food that they buy. She’s enlisted athletes for public service ads and promotional events to encourage exercise. The President has convened a national task force to coordinate changes in everything from our national food programs to the nutritional materials given out to our citizens. The First Lady wants to make this a campaign, one that might challenge all of us to change our habits, while creating institutional supports for the change.

This is just common sense. For all the focus for getting a sensible health care plan in place, the even greater priority is creating good health care habits. Childhood habits are the most important; and our children now are increasingly at risk.

Sensible eating, regular exercise, drinking lots of water—this common sense too often is ignored by all of us. You dig your grave with your teeth, goes the old saying, and too many folks don’t drink enough water even to nourish the flowers.

Michelle Obama is right to get athletes engaged in teaching our young. She might want to enlist some “afterletes” too, the retired champions who have let themselves swell up, shortening their life expectancy by continuing an athlete’s eating habits without an athlete’s exercise regimen.

This incredibly important initiative won’t be easy. The First Lady will face powerful corporate lobbies that make their money off of peddling junk food. She’ll be attacked for being an elitist for presuming to tell us how to eat and exercise. She’ll be scoured for talking about eating right, when many folks are struggling just to eat at all.

In our polarized politics, no good deed goes unpunished. Already right-wing attack machine has geared up, mocking the notion that obesity is a national security challenge. Michelle Malkin, one of the legions of poisonous right-wing columnists, says this is just an effort to displace parents, “cede the children, feed the state,” and favor “SEIU union bosses,” whose members serve lunches in schools. On Redstate.com, a rightwing blog site, a screamer named Streiff, in a blogpost titled “Hey Fatso, Gitmo for You,” warns that we’ll “see foods being banned, states acting to remove obese children from their homes.”

I’m glad the First Lady ignored the many obstacles, the naysayers and the haters, and decided to go forward full force. If we all join—engage schools, public education, personal responsibility, responsible corporations, institutional changes and pubic action—millions of children might be saved—and the country would surely be the stronger for it.

This isn’t a challenge that can be solved in a year or in an administration, as the First Lady noted, but “This isn’t like a disease where we’re still waiting for a cure to be discovered—we know the cure for this. This isn’t like putting a man on the moon or inventing the Internet. It doesn’t take some stroke of genius or feat of technology. “We have everything we need, right now, to help our kids lead healthy lives” So Let’s Move.

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