WASHINGTON– Michelle Obama had doubts about making a campaign against childhood obesity one of her signature issues.
“I wondered to myself whether we could really make a difference, because when you take on a problem this big and this complicated, at times it can be a little overwhelming,” she said in a recent speech.
The anti-obesity campaign Obama calls “Let’s Move” celebrates its first anniversary Wednesday. Is it making a difference?
In some ways, yes. In others, it’s much too soon to tell.
Advocates who have long worked on the issue say the first lady’s involvement is raising awareness about the potential future of the U.S. as a nation of unhealthy people unless the trend is reversed. Obama has been doing it in ways that they can’t.
“She has been a spark plug,” said Nancy Brown, chief executive of the American Heart Association.
Obama has addressed governors, mayors, school groups, food makers and other constituencies, urging them to build more bike paths and playgrounds, to serve healthier school lunches, and to make and sell more food that’s better for you.
She has visited schools across the country to see what changes they are making, from planting fruit and vegetable gardens modeled after her own celebrated White House plot to opening salad bars in their lunchrooms. And she’s worked herself into a sweat at exercise clinics with kids.
Her year of effort has led to promises of change from beverage makers, food manufacturers and, perhaps notably, Wal-Mart, the country’s largest retailer, to cut the levels of salt, fat and sugar in their products.
Lasting change will take years of effort, though, and some doubt it will happen at all.
“I’ve been through so many of these enormous announcements by food companies about how they’re going to profoundly change the way they’re doing business and they don’t,” said food expert and New York University nutrition professor Marion Nestle. “So it remains to be seen.”
Obama said when she launched the campaign that it would benefit future generations by helping children born today become adults at a healthy weight. The issue is picking up momentum, she said.