Newsweek Takes on Obesity Crisis with Michelle Obama Cover Story and More

March 16, 2010

by Mark Bishop, Deputy Director

Michelle Obama made the cover of Newsweek with the first article she’s written to promote the Let’s Move initiative — but the real story here is Newsweek’s coverage of the obesity crisis.

In the article Culture of Corpulence,
Newsweek provides an overview of the obesity crisis and in doing so
becomes one of the largest mainstream advocates for reform. Take a
read. It’s only a few pages long, but it presents a good broad-stroke
picture of the issues and of what we need to do to reverse these
trends. The pieces are accompanied by several related articles, also available online. 

What
was most striking to me is how Newsweek reporter Claudia Kalb presented
the enormity of the challenge, emphasizing that no single person is at
fault, and no single silver bullet can change the situation:

We
need a coordinated comprehensive plan of attack. We need to be
surrounded by food that makes us well, not sick. We need schools and
workplaces to reward us for exercising our bodies, not just our
brains…

An entire cultural shift is required, starting with
nutrition education. Showing children the government’s food pyramid is
fine, but it’s not enough. Kids need to learn which items to choose in
the lunch line, says CSPI’s Wootan, and someone needs to show them what
a plate of colorful, nourishing food looks like. Schools must get the
funding they need to fix ovens and buy mixers and salad bars so their
meal staff can do more than reheat processed foods. Educators must
figure out creative ways to incorporate exercise into the day, even if
it means blasting music over the PA system for 10 minutes every morning
and afternoon for all-school dance time. 

We know these
changes won’t happen overnight, but an important opportunity to make
change for kids’ health in school is quickly approaching. Right now,
we’re focused on reforming the Child Nutrition Act
when it is reauthorized this year. (Michelle Obama also prioritized this reform as part of Let’s Move.) We need to speak up to urge Congress
to include increased funding for better school food in this
reauthorization. You can send a letter voicing your support here
A strong and well-funded reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act
could pump more money into schools to purchase healthier options for
lunch and breakfast programs.

But it has to go beyond that: we
need education reform that includes an emphasis on educating the whole
child so that school leaders are able to prioritize health, wellness,
physical activity and nutrition just as they prioritize math and
science. (And while we’re at it, I have to mention that art and
language are also important parts of educating the whole child.) We need to refine the ways we measure these
elements in schools — because, as they say, things that don’t get
measured usually don’t get done.

We also need to fund
facilities so we can fix up our aging schools and their kitchens, which often don’t even include equipment for cooking.

And of course
we need to begin looking closely at agricultural reform, so we can
start investing in an agriculture system that doesn’t only subsidize
commodity crops but also fruits and veggies. Until that happens, it
will continue to be more expensive to get a salad on your lunch tray
than a cheeseburger.

So Michelle Obama has brought media
attention and a sense of glamor to the issue of childhood obesity. And
the reality is that behind the cover stories and news clips, there’s a
tremendous amount of substance to this issue — and an incredible
amount of work we can all do to help make this important and
far-reaching change.