The first lady with the famously buff biceps will be on the move, literally, over the next few days to mark the second anniversary of her “Let’s Move!” fitness initiative, aimed at reducing childhood obesity in America.
Today, Michelle Obama kicks off a three-day national tour that begins in Des Moines, Iowa, and makes its way to Little Rock, Arkansas, and Dallas-Fort Worth. The final leg of the trip will include stops at three cities in Florida, including Orlando. The tour comes after Obama made lighthearted appearances on Ellen and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon to promote the initiative over the last two weeks.
According to the White House, Mrs. Obama will meet and greet families, educators, military personnel, health care professionals, business, and faith leaders, who have made a significant commitment to improving health outcomes for the nation’s children.
Along the way, she will be joined by Olympic champions and professional athletes, Disney Channel stars, and contestants from Bravo’s Top Chef series.
“The first lady really wanted to get out and see all the great work that’s going on around the country,” said Sam Kass, senior policy advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives and assistant White House chef. “We’re really seeing the country unifying around the health and well-being of our nation’s kids.”
The first lady’s whirlwind itinerary will run the gamut from a community discussion at an Olive Garden restaurant in Texas, to a massive interactive event with some 10,000 students at the Wells Fargo Arena in Iowa.
At the Little Rock Air Force Base, where a special pilot program has been established to enhance food service quality, variety and availability, Mrs. Obama will receive a briefing on healthy eating efforts from leadership, and then visit the dining facility to discuss the changes with cooks and military personnel.
The first lady will also have dinner with a Florida family, and speak to a gathering of about 3,000 people in Longwood about ways faith and community organizations can support healthy lifestyles. She’ll wrap the tour at the sports complex of Walt Disney World Resort, taking part in a fitness activity with hundreds of local children and their families.
“Thank goodness she’s putting the message out there,” said Marlene Schwartz, the deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University. “We know that you can’t pile on the chicken nuggets and fries in the school cafeteria or at home, and expect children to lose weight. We have to change the food environment in this country, and we need to change policies.”
Since the 1970s, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and nearly one in three children is overweight or obese, according to the Let’s Move website.
Among African-American and Hispanic youth, nearly 40 percent of children are overweight or obese.
Childhood obesity has even become a national security issue. According to Defense Department officials, more than a quarter of America’s 17 to 24-year-olds are too heavy to serve in the U.S. military. Additionally, the department reports spending more than a billion dollars annually on medical care associated with excess weight and obesity among active duty troops.
“When we surveyed back in the mid ‘90s, we found that about two out of 100 had weight problems,” said Dr. Jonathan Woodson, a surgeon who is Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs. “When we surveyed in about 2005, this had increased to about one in 20, so that’s becoming more of a significant problem for us, and this is one of the reasons we need to address this issue.”
While the mission of “Let’s Move!” is to impact obesity rates within a generation, the White House is touting a series of early successes linked to the endeavor.
For instance, Wal-Mart has pledged to work with manufacturers to remove 10 percent of sugar and 25 percent of sodium in categories throughout the store.
Walgreens and other retailers have announced a commitment to build or expand 1,500 stores in communities with `food deserts’— limited or no access to healthy food.
Recently, the first lady partnered with Goya Foods around `Mi Plato,’ which will update traditional Latino recipes with healthier changes.
The splashy anniversary celebration of “Let’s Move!” coincides with 2012 presidential politics. Several of the states Mrs. Obama will visit, particularly Florida, are rich in electoral votes and have the potential to sway the outcome of a national election. And some polls suggest Michelle Obama is more popular than her husband.
“There is no way especially in the current climate, that nothing can be seen as totally un-politicized,” said David Bositis, senior research associate at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black think tank in Washington, D.C. “And because the first lady is viewed very well, the more she is out there, she is seen as an asset to the president’s campaign.”