Michelle Obama's efforts on behalf of fitness for American kids are doomed to fail, and everybody knows it - except for people who believe in the tooth fairy.

 

The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, July 14, 2010. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Raise Your Hands - Who Thinks Michelle Obama Will Reduce Childhood Obesity?

I was just thinking, do you remember when Arnold Schwarzenegger was appointed George Bush I's director of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports? You don't? You don't remember his three-volume book series, Arnold's Fitness for Kids: Ages Birth-5, Ages 6-10, Ages 11-14, accompanied by a videocassette, The Fitness Express?

Why don't you remember that great series? Okay, it was 20 years ago. Oh, you say, childhood obesity has increased substantially in that time? So you put the whole Schwarzenegger thing out of your mind - too depressing?

But Michelle Obama is starting a program to encourage regular exercise - have you seen her Let's Move government Website? It's way better than Arnold's stuff - he didn't even have a Website!

You say that, since the 1990s, the number of schools with outdoor recesses has dwindled precipitously - it's virtually impossible to find a grade school around the country with such recesses? Due to liability concerns, and the need for extra time for teaching computers and what not? (Now that you mention it, I remember when my daughter Anna, who just graduated college, led a petition drive when she was 9 to prevent the ending of outdoor recess at her school in Morristown. No, they rejected her petition.)

And kids just don't go outside and play anymore on their own? They prefer videogames and iPods and texting and fiddling on their computers, or whatever they use now? And their parents don't make them go outside, since they harbor deep fears about their neighborhoods, even though crime has decreased over the last two decades? But people are more afraid anyhow? And nothing the First Lady can do will touch ANY of that? You can show kids how to skip rope until the cows come home, but if they never go outside, they'll never make any use of that skill?

Well, what about her White House garden, and her telling parents to feed their kids good food - especially inner-city kids?

What, have I heard about any of those best-sellers about America's giant agro-business economy, where American farmland is devoted to subsidized corn production to feed cattle, and to make artificial sweeteners and corn-based chips and other snacks? What do you mean, have I ever heard of high-fructose corn syrup? And our whole government supports its production? And these products are everywhere, but are especially concentrated in poor neighborhoods, both urban and rural?

Did I read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, where he traces that crappy McDonald's meal his family wolfed down back to a cornfield in Iowa? The corn feeds the steers that McDonald's turns into burgers, becomes the oil that cooks the fries, and makes up the syrup that sweetens the shakes and the sodas? The corn is even included in the Chicken McNuggets ingredients?

But can't Michelle tell her hubby to cut that out?

What, that would be political suicide? You saw an article by Michael Pollan, in The New York Review of Books (June 10, 2010), where he said Obama's "industry-friendly appointments suggest that while the administration may be sympathetic to elements of the food movement's agenda, it isn't about to take on agribusiness, at least not directly, at least until it senses at its back a much larger constituency for reform?" You mean while Michelle is out lecturing kids, the President is cutting backroom deals that guarantee the non-stop supply of dreck into our inner cities?

Well, I just don't believe you. That Michelle Obama is such a nice woman. She's so sincere! She wouldn't put us on - not for a minute! Shame on you for even suggesting that!

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From July 15, 2010 New York Times article by George Loewenstein and Peter Ubel:

Obesity isn't a result of a lack of information; instead, economists argue that rising levels of obesity can be traced to falling food prices, especially for unhealthy processed foods.

To combat the epidemic effectively, then, we need to change the relative price of healthful and unhealthful food - for example, we need to stop subsidizing corn, thereby raising the price of high fructose corn syrup used in sodas, and we also need to consider taxes on unhealthful foods. But because we lack the political will to change the price of junk food, we focus on consumer behavior.