The Problem With Michele Obama's Anti-Obesity Campaign

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
Feb. 11 2010 6:27 PM

The Problem With Michele Obama's Anti-Obesity Campaign

In her very interesting piece in Salon about Michele Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, Kate Harding challenges the decision to frame it as a mission to "'solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation,' rather than to improve health and well-being across the board." She’s worried about "whipping up fear and disgust of the very fat children you're supposedly trying to help," and she cuts some of the panic-inducing statistics down to size. (For example, parse that terrifying phrase about "nearly a third" of American kids being obese or overweight, and you discover that obesity rates are actually much lower: 12.5 percent for preschoolers, 17 percent for 6-11 year olds, and 17.6 percent for adolescents up to 19. Kids' laziness gets exaggerated, too; according to some studies, inactivity is above all a high school problem.)

Harding’s point, which is well taken, is that alarmist rhetoric may get people off their butts, but it can cloud their heads. The effect can be to undercut a public health cause like this one, which she argues would more constructively focus on fitness for all sizes. There’s just one problem: Clear-headed analysis aimed at a broadly inclusive audience doesn’t so readily get people moving, or generate the kind of targeted strategies that are likely to be helpful. Ever since Eisenhower got worried about American "softness" more than half a century ago, The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports has been tirelessly exhorting citizens to exercise-and see where that’s got us. But if the Obamas’ mission can stir up some vigorous debate about how best to tackle this issue, that’s a good step. As JFK, a real enthusiast in the fitness cause, emphasized, "Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity."


The Slatest

Ben Bradlee Dead at 93

The legendary Washington Post editor presided over the paper’s Watergate coverage.

This Scene From All The President’s Men Captures Ben Bradlee’s Genius

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Whole Foods Is Desperate for Customers to Feel Warm and Fuzzy Again

The XX Factor

I’m 25. I Have $250.03.

My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I’m 25. I Have $250.03. My doctors want me to freeze my eggs.

Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Free Speech

The Congressional Republican Digging Through Scientists’ Grant Proposals

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 3:13 PM Why Countries Make Human Rights Pledges They Have No Intention of Honoring
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 3:03 PM Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:42 PM The All The President’s Men Scene That Perfectly Captured Ben Bradlee’s Genius
Oct. 21 2014 11:44 PM Driving in Circles The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.