The Corner

The WSJ on the White House Anti-Obesity Campaign

I don’t agree entirely with this morning’s Wall Street Journal editorial on the First Lady’s anti-obesity campaign. The Journal characterizes the campaign as mostly a plan that “encourages parents to be better role models” and one that “largely avoids the kind of paternalistic excesses such as advertising bans advocated by Thomas Freiden, Mr. Obama’s director of the Centers for Disease Control, and for once it passed up an opportunity to propose new taxes.”

While the White House has urged parents to be better role models — and certainly Michelle Obama has offered her own personal stories to encourage greater parental involvement in a child’s food choices — no one really knows what the White House has planned, and the Journal was wrong to suggest that regulations and additional taxes won’t be recommended going forward.

The only thing we do know is that a panel has been created to provide the president with policy recommendations within 90 days. The executive order establishing the panel requires that it assist “in the assessment and development of legislative, budgetary, and policy proposals that can improve the health and well-being of children, their families, and communities.” Given this charge and the panel’s make-up (it consists mostly of Obama-administration appointees), it seems at the very least possible that we’ll see a call for more federal dollars to be spent on school-lunch and physical-education programs, as well as a call for greater regulation of “bad foods.” But again, since the report isn’t out yet, it seems a bit premature for the Journal to pass judgment on what the White House has planned.

Another strange thing about the Journal editorial is that, while praising the First Lady’s call for government action, it cites a recent Ohio State University study that found that kids benefit most from parent-led (not government-required) actions — less television, more family dinners, and more sleep. The Journal also fails to mention that these government “health” promotions have been going on for decades . . . and yet the problem persists. Simply put, Michelle Obama isn’t breaking new ground here.

As a recent AP article noted, in the 1950s, President Eisenhower kicked off the President’s Conference on Fitness of American Youth. President Kennedy echoed Eisenhower’s concerns, even penning an article in Sports Illustrated called “The Soft American.” Physical-fitness campaigns were also priorities for the Nixon and George H. W. Bush administrations.

But the Journal does get one thing absolutely right: Instead of spending taxpayer dollars on school-lunch programs and healthy-eating propaganda, the government should focus on the country’s broken agricultural policies. The Journal states: “Take the money out of U.S. farm subsidies that make unhealthy foods artificially cheap. Most of the excess calories in the American diet come in the form of highly processed starches, and Tufts University’s Timothy Wise estimates that since the 1996 farm bill corn and soybeans have been priced 23% and 15% below average production costs.”

Now, that might be a government-led anti-obesity campaign I can get behind.

– Julie Gunlock is a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

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