Obesity is a problem much larger than all the puns frequently used to describe its epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control estimates 35.7 percent of all adults and 17 percent of all children in the United States are obese. Medical costs attributed to obesity in the US reached $147 billion in 2008. Nearly 600 million people worldwide are obese. The sobering fact is that each of these statistical feats have grown largely in the last 35 years, before which most were blips on the radar compared to other public health concerns. Having been obese until college, researched obesity, and worked in obesity policy, I was pleased to learn of the First Lady's "Let's Move!" Campaign to prevent childhood obesity when it was launched in 2010. This week, I was happy to learn that she's taking the message overseas to the London Olympics.
Mrs. Obama is leading the Presidential Delegation to the UK, where she will cheer on American Olympians, meet with the Queen and wife of Prime Minister David Cameron, and most notably, lead a "Let's Move!" event for 1,000 British and American children. Of course, there are those skeptical of her efforts, including a post on this site wary that linking the Olympics to obesity prevention will discourage children for whom the dream of becoming the world-class athletes they see on television is likely “unattainable.”
But the promise of bringing "Let's Move!" to the world's stage is not limited to getting children to mimic athletes as they watch the Olympics (as I did). The First Lady's efforts abroad go for the gold in a couple of ways.
1. Bringing Awareness to a Global Stage: Where epidemiologists are tracking the rise of obesity and its effects worldwide, the problem is largely one that is epitomized by America. Deserved or not, this is a setback. To associate obesity with America is to ignore its rise and delay its solutions elsewhere. While Michelle Obama enjoys an iconic status across the globe, it's difficult for her efforts on childhood obesity to get notice in the international press when the United States is a constant and multifaceted player in the world arena. The Olympics ally her global presence to a topical stage, a venue in which it is more than appropriate to hold discourse on obesity everywhere.
2. Fighting Brands With Brands: It's puzzling and ironic and frustrating all at once that major junk food brands Coca Cola and McDonald’s are official sponsors of the Olympic Games. Associating paragons of athletic prowess to French fries and high-fructose corn syrup soft drinks if confusing to children, to say the least. Where children are seeing one set of celebrity and brand to athleticism, Let's Move! Offers another. Earlier this year the initiative joined forces with the Walt Disney Company to reduce junk food advertisement and label healthier foods. The Let's Move! “bash” with 1,000 British and American children expands on this move, bringing in Nickelodeon, Olympic legends and sports icons like David Beckham to children and cameras.
A short-term trip to London won't put an end to obesity, but it's not supposed to either. The Let's Move! component to Mrs. Obama's delegation is both emblematic of efforts thus far, and amplifying of those to come.
Correction: A previous version of this article erroneously stated that 600 billion people worldwide were obese.