According to the blog Health Affairs, Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move anti-obesity campaign has become increasingly imbalanced since its launch in February 2010, with exercise losing its standing when compared to dietary considerations – Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move’ Is Losing Its Footing.
The key finding, as pointed out by Running USA’s Ryan Lamppa, is that “as the program evolved, the focus turned to caloric intake and not expenditure.” In studying the coverage of the Let’s Move program, Health Affairs was “unable to find much evidence about implementing the exercise parts of the Let’s Move initiative. This is particularly relevant because of the scaling back and cancellation of physical education classes due to budget cuts.”
Health Affairs points out that in 2006, only 3.8 percent of elementary schools, 7.9 percent of middle schools, and 2.1 percent of high schools provided the minimum level of weekly physical activity as recommended by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (150 minutes per week for elementary-school-aged children and 225 minutes per week for middle and high school students).
Yet in their 2009 paper in the American Journal of Play, Physically Active Play and Cognition: An Academic Matter?, authors Jacob Sattelmair and John J. Ratey conclude: “There is abundant evidence that regular physical activity benefits the brains and bodies of school-aged children. Whether this evidence will lead to quality physical education in U.S. schools is more than an academic worry.”
Notwithstanding the mounting evidence, Health Affairs found that “only eight states require that students take physical education every year from first through twelfth grade. 22 states (43%) allow required physical education credits to be earned through online courses, and less than one-third of all children ages 6-17 engage in “vigorous activity” (physical activity for at least 20 minutes that makes the child sweat and breathe hard). It’s conclusion, “One cannot help but wonder how and why a program that started so well is leaning so heavily in one direction, when it would do much better if it moved on both legs.”
While both caloric intake and expenditure are balancing ends of the obesity issue, what’s missing in Health Affair’s analysis, and perhaps with Let’s Move, as well, is the other side of any kid’s program, the Mom & Dad side. How did these kids get obese in the first place? It starts at home, and schools defunding P.E. classes just worsened an already troubling trend. Schools cannot take the place of parents, no matter how many programs they might institute. If children are not taught the importance of exercise and proper eating at home, they will be less likely to embrace it at school.
“The parents have a responsibility to their children and themselves to set the example,” agrees Tim “T-Bone” Arem, producer/host of T-Bone’s Radio Active Kids and leader of children’s fitness events around the nation. “As we have seen, the parents that support their kids being active, taking a role in their child’s activity schedule, are the ones most successful in this area. These are the parents who seem to give a damn about the fitness level of their offspring. We presently have the most available information in history on how to curb this situation, and our society in general is doing a crappy job.
“Yes, all the existing programs help, but they are a tip of the iceberg. Kids need to get out and be active, period. When children are young their first inclination is to run around the house, instead of telling them to stop, let’s embrace that energy and encourage it throughout their childhood.”
With the economy in the state it is in, however, the obesity struggle has become a socio-economic issue as much as anything. Both at home and in schools competing priorities vie for limited funding, and unfortunately exercise programs and healthy eating are often cast as important, but secondary needs. Much like American businesses caught in the next-quarterly-report-cycle, obesity is a pie-shaped wedge whose consequences (physical and fiscal) lie far down the road, and are therefore more easily allowed to perpetuate today.
Running USA (disclaimer, I am on the Board of Directors) continues in developing its own kid’s initiative. A presentation will be made to the entire board by Russ Pillar, chair of the Youth Running Committee, in early August in Chicago.