Michelle Obama fights childhood obesity

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Michelle Obama runs with kids in New Hampshire.

First ladies have had to do extraordinary work in order to distinguish themselves from their husbands — Hillary Clinton, anyone? Their passion and commitment to a cause determines their place in American history, regardless of who their husbands may be.

Michelle Obama has certainly earned her place in history with her vigorous “Let’s Move” campaign. She began this initiative to battle childhood obesity, which has tripled over the past three decades. Obesity costs the United States $147 billion annually, according to Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The average American, Frieden says, is 23 pounds overweight.

Along with the billions of dollars obesity costs us, some alarming facts stood out in the first lady’s briefing room statement. First, obesity is the leading medical reason that disqualifies young men and women from military service. Second, this is the first time in about two centuries when children in this generation could actually have a lower life expectancy than those before them. Finally, one-third of all children born in or after 2000 will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives, while many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma.

The Office of the First Lady released a statement in Feb. 2010 to the White House briefing room, outlining the four major sections of Obama’s plan for a healthier America. These include informing parents more about nutrition and exercise, improving the quality of foods in schools, making healthy foods more affordable and accessible to families and focusing more on physical education.

In the past year, the first lady has reached out to government and communities alike and pushed them to meet the new standards she has set. In addition to this call to action, Obama also announced the creation of the Partnership for a Healthier America, which joins the forces of powerhouse companies such as the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that promise to provide funding and resources to back the “Let’s Move” campaign.

At the end of March, Austin Independent School District received grants totaling $75,000 from the city of Austin to be used toward childhood obesity prevention in the Austin Independent School District, according to a news report from Austin’s Fox affiliate on March 24.

Austin’s local incentive to fight obesity will focus on school nutrition and exercise programs. Dr. Philip Huang with Travis County Health and Human Services says that the grant money will be split between making cafeterias more health conscious and installing more bike racks at certain AISD schools.

It is encouraging to know that at least some people in Washington, D.C., are putting their money where their mouths are and making progress happen for the rest of America. There may be a reason the president calls the first lady his “better half.”