Momentum for Change: Healthy Schools Campaign’s Work in the Context of Michelle Obama’s Initiative

February 11, 2010

By Rochelle Davis, Founding Executive Director

This Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama launched her comprehensive initiative to reverse the trend of childhood obesity within a generation.  I want to provide you with an overview of her initiative and how Healthy Schools Campaign's work is positioned in relation to this effort.

The First Lady’s program, which is called Let’s Move, focuses on what families, communities and the public and private sectors can do to improve health, specifically children’s health.  The major components of this initiative are:

Encourage Americans to make healthy choices by making nutrition information on food packages more clear, and empowering parents with simple and easy-to-use tips on how to promote healthy eating and physical activity.

Improve nutrition and physical education in schools by encouraging schools to participate in the HealthierUS Schools Challenge, and pass a strong Child Nutrition Act reauthorization this year.

Increase physical activity by promoting the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award.  

Make healthy food more available, particularly in low-income communities through the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, a $400 million per year effort to eliminate food deserts in the next five years.

The First Lady’s emergence as a champion on this issue, and her focus on school food, creates significant momentum for achieving meaningful and sustainable change. Her program reinforces what we have learned in our own work. We need environmental changes in order to effectively combat childhood obesity and no one sector, whether it be government, business, schools or parents, can solve this problem by itself.

Let’s Move has a major focus on the school environment; specifically,  the program focuses on two areas:  the HealthierUS Schools Challenge, and the Child Nutrition Act. The HealthierUS Schools Challenge is a recognition program for schools that meet high nutrition standards and incorporate physical activity and nutrition education into the school day.  We are currently working with the Chicago Public Schools to adopt this program. 

The First Lady called on Congress to pass a Child Nutrition Act which improves nutritional standards for all school food, increases funding by $1 billion per year for the next ten years, and makes it easier for students to participate. HSC has been very active in promoting a Child Nutrition Act that provides additional resources for more healthful school food. 

In fact, we are now partnering with Karen Duncan, wife of the Secretary of Education, and Christie Vilsack, wife of the Secretary of Agriculture.  As the National Honorary Co-chairs for Cooking up Change 2010, they are supporting our efforts to promote a strong Child Nutrition Act. On March 2, we will travel to Washington, DC with students from Tilden Career Community Academy High School, the 2009 winning team at Cooking up Change, to participate in a congressional briefing with Mrs. Duncan and Mrs. Vilsack.  

On Tuesday, President Obama signed an executive order convening an interagency taskforce to coordinate the role of the federal government in combating childhood obesity. We believe that this is especially important, as a successful plan for addressing childhood obesity cannot rest in one department or agency. 

Healthy Schools Campaign has actively engaged federal agencies including the USDA, Department of Education and Department of Health and Human Services on these policy issues, and we will continue to do so. Some of our specific recommendations were detailed in Healthy and Ready to Learn: Lessons from Chicago, a report released early last year.

This is a time of great excitement and promise, and we are thankful and energized by the First Lady’s commitment to this work. 

When the issue of childhood obesity first captured public attention, many people did not consider it to be a serious public policy issue. Healthy Schools Campaign, our many partners, and others working in this important field have made significant progress in bringing attention, resources, understanding, and policy solutions to this issue.  With a champion in the White House, we are well positioned to make a tremendous difference in providing children with the opportunity to grow up to lead healthy and productive lives.