Forget the Haters: Michelle Obama Doubles Down on Childhood Obesity Fight

FLOTUS takes on critics while celebrating $500 million donated to improving the health of American youths.

(Photo: Nikki Kahn/Getty Images)

Feb 6, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Willy Blackmore is TakePart’s Food editor.

Michelle Obama has walked a delicate line in her years of pushing for nutrition reform and generally improving kids’ health. After launching the "Let’s Move!" campaign in 2010, she went from backing a soda tax to partnering with Walmart and promoting exercise as the solution to the obesity crisis. Critics sharpened their knives.

Similarly to her husband, however, the first lady’s personal views sometimes take the background in order to promote her pragmatic policy goals. And in the wake of a leadership change at "Let’s Move!," with ever-conciliatory Sam Kass being replaced by card-carrying food justice advocate Deb Eschmeyer, Obama appears to be returning to her more populist mode.

Speaking at an event in New York City on Thursday to celebrate a new $500 million pledge from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to fight childhood obesity, she called out those who are trying to block school-lunch reform efforts and other public and private efforts to improve childhood nutrition and health.

“We all know that for everyone in this country who has stepped up to champion this issue, there are plenty of other folks just waiting for us to get bored,” Obama told the audience. “They’re just waiting for us to declare victory and turn our attention to other matters. We’ve seen this firsthand with our battles on school lunches. We have seen special interests throwing every resource they have at this issue, and we know that sometimes our kids’ health isn’t exactly their first priority.”

With its latest contribution, Robert Wood Johnson has now put a total of $1 billion toward fighting obesity.

While the new nutrition standards for school lunches have been met with oppostition from students, politicians, and industry groups alike, the data on childhood obesity shows glimmers of hope. The rate for kids ages 2 to 5 has dropped from 14 percent to 8 percent. But close to 18 percent of children ages 6 to 11 were obese in 2012.

A glimmer is not enough for Obama, who said, “We simply cannot afford to be complacent for one single minute. And that’s really what it means to be a champion on this issue.”