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Michelle Obama leads campaign to combat childhood obesity

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2010-02-10

US First Lady Michelle Obama initiated a campaign to tackle childhood obesity Tuesday, which is being supported by the food industry. Obesity, considered an epidemic in the US, affects one in three children aged six to 19.

AFP - First Lady Michelle Obama teamed up with athletes, farmers, doctors, the food industry and media Tuesday to take on the childhood obesity "epidemic" that affects a staggering one in three American youngsters.

"We're determined to finally take on one of the most serious threats to their future, and that's the epidemic of childhood obesity in America today," the first lady said at the launch of the "Let's Move" campaign.

The initiative aims to rally families, communities, schools, urban planners, politicians and the media to "solve the problem of childhood obesity in a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight," she said.

She pointed to the urgency of taking action today, at a time when there are already three times more obese children in the United States than 30 years ago.

Because of obesity and the many illnesses and chronic conditions it spawns, health experts have predicted that this generation of American children could be the first to have shorter lifespans than their parents, said TV personality Tiki Barber, a former professional American football star.

Judith Palfrey, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, blamed the "alarming rise" on lack of exercise and a diet heavy in fat and sugar and light on fresh fruits and vegetables.

The United States is in the unenviable position of having the highest number of obese children in the developed world, said Palfrey.

Nearly one in five US kids aged six to 19 are obese, which in technical terms mean they have a body mass index -- calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their height squared in meters -- greater than 30.

In health terms, it means they are at greater risk for a whole host of maladies, ranging from high blood pressure to diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

"Our military leaders report that obesity is now one of the most common disqualifiers for military service. Economic experts tell us we are spending outrageous amounts of money treating obesity-related conditions," Obama said.

US medical costs associated with excessive weight soared from around 78 billion dollars a year in 1998 to around 147 billion dollars annually in 2006, a study released last year showed.

Will Allen, who has been a farmer for 50 years, said a major culprit was lack of access to good food.

US inner cities, home to many of the nation's poor, are "food deserts," where healthful food is rare and people live on cheaper processed meals "that would not be recognized as being food by our grandmothers," the towering farmer, dressed in a flat cap and tweed sweater, said at the launch.

Among steps to beat back obesity are an initiative to bring grocery stores that sell healthy food to inner cities, a rewards system for schools that offer healthy meals and regular physical education classes, and local efforts to build safe areas where children can play.

"This initiative has to deal with talking to parents in a way that makes sense, eliminating the accessibility and affordability issues in this country so that when we start talking about solutions, they are solutions that all families can access -- and not just the lucky few," Obama said in an interview with public television after the launch.

She also told CNN's "Larry King Live" that she had discussed the need for a healthier diet with her own daughters and involved them in monitoring their food choices.

"We talked about processed foods, so they caught on pretty quickly once they understood the point of it all," she said.

The first lady has set a healthy example herself by planting a vegetable garden on the White House grounds, which local schoolchildren helped to cultivate.

Private industry has backed the first lady's campaign, with Sodexo, which serves more than 2.8 million school meals daily to children in the United States, pledging to include more fruit, juice, vegetables, whole grain and milk options in lunches.

The Walt Disney Company has said that every series it produces, including the wildly popular "Hannah Montana" show, will include an episode with a healthy lifestyle theme.

Grassroots environmental organization the Sierra Club praised the first lady for her commitment to creating "safer outdoor spaces for children, like sidewalks, parks and community gardens -- initiatives that would reconnect them with the world outside."

Hours before his wife launched the initiative, President Barack Obama signed an executive memorandum setting up a task force that includes members of his cabinet and other officials, who have 90 days to draw up a master plan to combat childhood obesity.

Date created : 2010-02-10