White House declares: First lady has reduced childhood obesity rates

Vince Coglianese Editorial Director
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Michelle Obama has turned back childhood obesity nationwide, the White House declared Thursday.

“Mrs. Obama launched Let’s Move! on February 9, 2010 to unite the country around our kids’ health and create real support for families to live healthier lives,” reads an announcement from the Office of the First Lady. “Since then parents, business leaders, educators, elected officials, military leaders, chefs, physicians, athletes, childcare providers, community and faith leaders, and kids themselves have stepped up to improve the health of our nation’s children.” (RELATED: Michelle Obama going on national tour to celebrate her healthy eating initiative)

“Thanks to these efforts … the national childhood obesity rate has leveled off, and even declined in some cities and states,” the statement says, marking the third anniversary of the first lady’s signature public health program.

That assertion is bolstered in part by a late-2012 report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — an organization that has been publicly supportive of the first lady’s initiative — that revealed a decline.

“In recent years, the national childhood obesity rate has leveled off. However, some cities and states have reported modest declines in their rates, following peaks in the early 2000s,” an overview of the RWJF report reads.

The report received wide attention last year thanks in part to the New York Times’ reporting, and credits expanding food regulation in cities like New York and Philadelphia with small declines in childhood obesity between 2006 and 2010.

But The Times cautioned against giving the first lady too much credit for the shift:

Though obesity is now part of the national conversation, with aggressive advertising campaigns in major cities and a push by Michelle Obama, many scientists doubt that anti-obesity programs actually work. Individual efforts like one-time exercise programs have rarely produced results.

Defining childhood obesity can be a tricky business — even for the Obama administration.

In a 2010 report announcing “Changes in Terminology for Childhood Overweight and Obesity,” the Department of Health and Humans Services admitted that “[f]or children, there is no precise widely accepted definition of obesity in terms of body fatness.”


Meanwhile, hunger statistics in the United States continue their upward trajectory.

An Obama administration report from late 2012 revealed that in 2011, nearly 17 million Americans suffered what the Department of Agriculture calls “very low food security,” an uptick of approximately 800,000 people from 2010.

Of Americans in that category, “48 percent reported having lost weight because they did not have enough money for food,” according to the USDA.

The USDA reported that children are less affected by food insecurity than adults, but that approximately half of all food-insecure households with children have “low food security” or worse.

The unemployment rate still stubbornly holds around 8 percent nationwide and approximately 48 million Americans now rely on food stamps, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Nicole Lafond contributed to this report.

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