Nearly one in three U.S. children are obese: that's over three times the childhood obesity rate from thirty years ago! That means a rise in obesity-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. A recent study estimated that this spike in illnesses translates into almost $150 billion in health care costs.
Last week, the First Lady launched the Let's Move campaign aimed at solving the childhood obesity epidemic within this generation.
A big part of the plan involves working with food and drink-makers and educating consumers all in the name of helping parents make more informed choices about what they're buying. One that I'm really excited about: the American Beverage Association announced last week that it's working on a uniform front-of-package label reflecting total calories per container. This is huge, because up to this point, calorie labels reflected the amount in a 12oz serving. How many folks do you know who buy a 20oz sodapop and then dole out multiple servings?
The campaign will also educate parents on how to help their kids stay healthy through diet and exercise and by keeping an eye on indicators like body mass index. The American Academy of Pediatricians is going to lay out a "prescription" for parents outlining some easy ways to keep their kids fit and healthy.
They're also planning to roll out the 2.0 version of MyPyramid.gov with updated dietary guidelines. I hope the USDA will use this opportunity to take the focus off of saturated fat-filled meat and dairy for meeting nutritional needs like protein and calcium.
Access to healthy, affordable food is also critical to improving our children's overall health, and the Administration is partnering with the Departments of Treasury, Agriculture, and of Health and Human Services to work toward eliminating food deserts. There are over 6.5 million kids across the country living in low-income urban or rural areas that are more than a mile from any supermarkets. These food deserts mean limited access to healthy, affordable food for those kids. The Departments are investing $40 million per year to help bring grocery stores into these areas and help existing convenience stores stock healthier foods.
Another aspect of the campaign that I'm really jazzed about is the focus on getting better food into schools. They're looking to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, and next year they're requesting a $10 billion investment over 10 years to improve the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs.
They're also looking to double the number of schools participating in the Healthier U.S. School Challenge and getting the companies supplying food to schools to decrease the sugar, salt, and fat in school meals.
Of course, healthy food is only part of the equation, right? We need to get our kids active, too! Let's Move is working to expand and update the President's Physical Fitness Challenge.
Since the program is so new, a lot of the changes are a long ways off, but I'm interested to see where it goes! Michelle Obama has done an awesome job in starting a national dialogue about food with her organic garden on the White House lawn, and this program has the potential to do a lot more than just raise awareness! I'll be keeping my eye on Let's Move, for sure, especially its effects on the school lunch program and their new food guide pyramid.
Some folks are saying Let's Move doesn't go far enough, but others are calling it a great first step. I'd really like to see some money going to farm to school programs, but I'm really happy about the focus on education and the more honest front of package labeling for sweet drinks. What do you guys think?