Checking Up On Michelle Obama's Anti-Obesity Effort This week, first lady Michelle Obama is promoting the first anniversary of her Let's Move! initiative — aimed at solving the problem of childhood obesity. Many in the public health community have applauded her efforts, but some Republicans say the campaign smacks of government overreach.
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Checking Up On Michelle Obama's Anti-Obesity Effort

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Checking Up On Michelle Obama's Anti-Obesity Effort

Checking Up On Michelle Obama's Anti-Obesity Effort

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep. The president of the United States can sign billions of dollars of tax cuts into law and approve trillions of dollars in spending, but sometimes the smaller initiatives make a big difference. In a moment we'll explore the way the president speaks to business.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ari Shapiro tells us how it is going.

ARI SHAPIRO: The idea of a sustained project for the first lady started in the early 1960s.

D: It was Jacqueline Kennedy's work on refurbishing the White House, and that sort of set a bar early on.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Myra Gutin of Rider University in New Jersey studies the history of first ladies.

D: First ladies generally are dealing with less controversial or uncontroversial issues, but those which tend to benefit many people in the country.

SHAPIRO: But, she says, Michelle Obama goes farther than her predecessors.

D: She has partners from Major League Baseball to Wal-Mart, and no other first lady initiative that I can think of had that kind of support from the corporate world.

MONTAGNE: I am thrilled about Wal-Mart's new nutrition charter.

SHAPIRO: At the signing ceremony, the president credited his wife with giving the bill the urgency it needed to become a law.

INSKEEP: And had I not been able to get this passed, I would be sleeping on the couch.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: Dr. Marion Nestle is a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at NYU. She says the first lady has moved what used to be a niche movement into the mainstream.

D: There's no question that there are enormous changes taking place in school lunches. You can see that all over the country, where schools everywhere are trying to do something to improve the quality of the food that they're serving to children. So this is having an immediate impact.

SHAPIRO: Yesterday, Mrs. Obama held conference calls to thank mayors, school officials and medical professionals who have been involved in the program.

MONTAGNE: It's pretty amazing, for me, at least, to look back and see how far we've come.

SHAPIRO: Surgeon General Regina Benjamin said there is no greater challenge to the country's health than obesity.

D: Since 1980, obesity rates have doubled in adults and more than tripled in children, and the problem is even worse among black, Hispanic and Native American children.

SHAPIRO: Now that the White House is steering the ship, some Republicans have jumped overboard. Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin have all attacked Mrs. Obama's program directly.

MONTAGNE: Instead of a government thinking that they need to take over, make decisions for us according to some politician or politician's wife's priorities - just leave us alone. Get off our back.

SHAPIRO: During the Super Bowl telecast, viewers in Washington, D.C. saw an ad against a proposed soda tax that struck a similar tone without mentioning Mrs. Obama's program specifically.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

U: Give me a break. I can decide what to buy without government help. The government is just getting too involved in our personal lives.

SHAPIRO: While the critics accuse the program of being too heavy-handed, many of these changes come from agreements rather than regulations. No surprise, the first lady favors carrots over sticks, and also carrots over Twinkies.

MONTAGNE: Ari Shapiro, NPR News, the White House.

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