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Michelle Obama taking on childhood obesity

Caitlin Yoshiko Buysse | 3/10/2010, 3 a.m.

 Schools are also a major target of the program. Collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “Let’s Move” encourages school food providers to reduce the amount of sodium, sugar and fat in their meals, and increase the amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

 The program will also work to push the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which aims to improve the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs.

 In conjunction with “Let’s Move,” Pres. Obama launched the Taskforce on Childhood Obesity — the first of its kind — to review all policies and programs for children’s nutrition and physical activity and develop a national action plan.

“Let’s Move” is not without its critics. They contend the well-intentioned program fails to address what many researchers believe are  two of the main contributors to childhood obesity: marketing and accessibility.

 According to a 2005 Institute of Medicine research report, marketing has a strong influence on children’s diet. Each year, $10 billion is spent on food and beverage marketing to children — promoting foods high in sugar, salt and fat, and low in nutrients — which puts them at high risk for obesity.

 Today, American children consume at least 30 percent of their daily calories from junk food, with soft drinks alone comprising 10 percent of their daily caloric intake.

Another factor in childhood obesity is proximity to fast food. Research conducted by professors at Harvard’s School of Public Health and doctors at Children’s Hospital in Boston found that “Fast-food restaurants are concentrated within a short walking distance from schools, exposing children to poor-quality food environments.”

Later research in California linked the proximity of fast food restaurants and schools with the obesity rates of students.

 This is not Obama’s first public effort to encourage a healthy lifestyle. A year ago, with students from Bancroft Elementary School in Washington, D.C., she created a 1,100 square-foot vegetable garden on the White House’s South Lawn.

It was the first of its kind since Eleanor Roosevelt’s “Victory Garden” in 1943. The garden is now home to 55 diferent kinds of vegetables.

“Our kids can’t afford for us to get this wrong,” Obama said about childhood obesity in a speech to the National Governors Association last month. “Let’s stop wringing our hands and citing statistics. Let’s move.”