Michelle Obama Declares War on Childhood Obesity

I was delighted to read this afternoon that the First Lady is gearing up for a campaign to end childhood obesity in this country. Scheduled to announce her initiatives tomorrow, Michelle Obama is hoping to raise awareness about the growing obesity epidemic in this country, largely affecting the nation’s children.

Anthony Coley said this about Michelle Obama’s plans today in a piece for CNN:

On Tuesday, the first lady will unveil the details of her comprehensive plan, the broad outline of which, she told a meeting of key members of Congress and the Cabinet, include four main elements: increasing the number of healthy schools; increasing the amount of physical activity children receive; improving accessibility and affordability of healthy foods; and empowering consumers and families to make healthier food choices. She’ll spell out the details in the coming days.

The childhood obesity epidemic is the newest front in the battle of the bulge, and Mrs. Obama should be praised for using her mass appeal to shed light on it. She is right to argue, as she has, that there is no one solution, federal or otherwise.

Stopping this epidemic will require complementary efforts that bring together government, families, schools, foundations, businesses and others. Here’s hoping that people across America hear Mrs. Obama’s call to action and join the national campaign to end childhood obesity. Our collective future, in no small part, depends on its success.

Honestly, it’s about dang time that this nation took tangible steps to end the obesity epidemic and raise the health of this country. Over the last several months, I’ve been shocked by the growing waistline of Americans; it feels as if everywhere I turn these days, I see obese men, women and children trapped in a fast food culture.

Currently, 1 in 3 Americans are obese, based on their body mass index (which I’ve railed against, but I digress). Obesity has been linked to increased risk for a host of diseases, including heart attack and diabetes. But, what’s most striking is that obesity is directly associated with socioeconomic status: the poorer you are, the more likely you are to be obese (particularly if you are a woman).

We see this relationship directly in data presented by Baum and Ruhm that compared measures of obesity against socioeconomic status (I graphed the data from Table 2).

 But we also see this relationship when we look at the median household income in the top eleven most obese states in America: states with higher rates of obesity tend to have lower median household incomes.

State Income % Obese
Mississippi 36674 32.8
Alabama 40751 31.4
W. Virginia 40611 31.2
Tenessee 43458 30.6
Oklahoma 41497 30.3
S. Carolina 43338 30.1
Kentucky 41320 29.8
N. Carolina 44411 29
Michigan 51305 28.9
Ohio 48884 28.7
Arkansas 40001 28.7

In fact, if we graph these data for all states, we see an inverse relationship between obesity prevalence and median household income:

And finally, we also see a similar trend when we look across racial lines: minority groups with lower median household income (I used the 2006 numbers to match the year when the obesity data were collected) status tend to have higher rates of obesity.

(And no, I didn’t run any statistics on any of this stuff. What am I, some kind of number-crunching dork who likes to analyse data for fun? ^_^)

My point in all of this? Obesity is a health epidemic that disproportionately affects the poor. In a way, our continued cultural apathy towards obesity (childhood or otherwise) is a popularly condoned death sentence for the impoverished. Inaction when it comes to the obesity epidemic sends this message: yes, we believe the poor deserve to die.

And the truly sad thing about the obesity epidemic is that, with a little education, obesity is completely preventable. Encouraging physical activity and proper nutrition will help, as will initiatives that improve the economy. Even the healthcare reform bills mired in Congress, if passed, could improve the obesity outlook if they include sufficient emphasis on preventative care. But what this country can’t afford is continued ignorance and apathy; I’m glad Michelle Obama has taken the first step in making a difference.

And anyways, doesn’t this somehow justify all that trashy gossip over Michelle Obama’s killer arms? Instead of fixating on Michelle’s incredible shoulders, maybe we can start fixating on our own need to get more physically fit.

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