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Federalizing Fat
The first lady learned firsthand that good parenting is the best cure for child obesity; so what's all this about a new government program?


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Michelle Obama has recently taken up childhood obesity as one of her major policy priorities. Interviewed about this “epidemic,” the first lady discussed in some detail her own children’s supposed weight problems as an illustration of her personal experience with her new signature issue.

Mrs. Obama revealed that her daughters’ pediatrician had “warned that he was concerned that something was getting off balance.” She then decided that she needed to take a greater role in her children’s nutrition: “Even though I wasn’t exactly sure at that time what I was supposed to do with this information about my children’s BMI [body mass index], I knew that I had to do something.”

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After first getting over my complete mortification on behalf of the tween Obama girls, ages eight and eleven, at seeing their weight issues discussed in a national forum, I started to think about their home situation. They are obviously loved, indeed doted on, by their parents and grandmother. The family employs a personal chef, who is himself a leader in the healthy-food and locavore movements, and who often brags about preparing healthy meals for the first family. A look at the weekly lunch menu served at the girls’ school reveals such items as grilled veggie wraps, local squash gratin, natural local rosemary chicken, and local vegetable risotto. And, of course, the Obamas have within the White House a gym, a bowling alley, a basketball court, and an outdoor pool.

Despite all this, the Obama girls’ weight went “off balance.” The first lady took action immediately, making small but significant changes to her daughters’ diets and habits: less television, more colorful vegetables at dinner, more water and low-fat milk. In other words, Mrs. Obama promptly took a greater role in her children’s food decisions. Now, according to her, the girls’ weight is back “on track.”

Good for Mrs. Obama for taking responsibility for her children’s health. Her personal attention to the matter clearly made a difference.

Her decision to embarrass her children by talking about the rather delicate issue of their weight in a national interview was presumably intended to inspire other parents to take a more active role in their children’s food choices. She had presumably learned from her own family’s experience that responsible parenting is the best way to combat childhood obesity.

But apparently the first family’s own success has had no impact on Mrs. Obama’s policy prescriptions. Her solution for the rest of America is more government intervention.

Speaking about the issue during a meeting with cabinet members and congressional leaders, the first lady said: “It’s going to require us working together — not just the administration, but Congress, governors, mayors, parents, teachers. Anyone who has access to children in their lives is going to have to work together. And one of the things that’s also very clear is that this problem won’t be solved by any single federal solution. This is going to require national action.”

Mrs. Obama is certainly correct about one thing: The problem won’t be solved by a federal solution — not even the one she went on to propose.



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