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Kids' Diets: Why We Need Immovable Love, Not 'Let's Move'

Aug 10 2011
Where Michelle Obama's anti-obesity campaign falls short.

The first time my daughter grabbed a box of cookies out of the pantry, flipped the package round and round, and asked me how many calories were in each one, I laughed it off.

"I don't know," I said. "Why do you ask?"

"Just wondering."

The second time she asked—while reaching for another square of our regular Friday night pizza—an alarm went off. This time she added, "I don't want to get fat. That's bad."

Even as I told her that she didn't need to pay any attention to calories, that they were good things, that we needed them for energy to run and play, I seethed. After all, I had a new enemy: whoever had introduced this calorie nonsense into my home and had made my healthy, vibrant 7-year-old worry about counting calories.

As it turns out, naming the enemy was more difficult than anticipated. Even as I read a horrifying (if overblown) story about the number of 5- to 7-year-olds who are being treated for eating disorders in the UK, I couldn't simply blame the media, Barbie, or the uber-retouched, sickly skinny celebs on magazine covers the way the Telegraph report did. After all, how could a thin woman in a magazine cause my daughter to dread getting fat?

But I was wrong. While loading food onto the conveyor at the grocery store, I saw her. On a magazine cover. In her pretty dress and sweet cardigan, ankles crossed ladylike on a picnic table set with apples in their summer glory.

I reached for the August issue of Better Homes and Gardens. "Fresh and Healthy: Michelle Obama," the cover read. At last I had found the culprit: one of the world's most beautiful, powerful, and intelligent women. Great.

If you don't know, Michelle Obama's major initiative during her husband's presidency has been the Let's Move campaign, which aims to end childhood obesity within a generation by encouraging healthier eating and activity "during their earliest months and years."

While well-intentioned to be sure, something about it strikes me as insidious.

Perhaps because even as Let's Move seeks to "raise a generation of healthier kids," it's a government program that targets kids: namely, fat ones. As the message of Let's Move and other programs like it has trickled down through layers of government bureaucracy into U.S. schools and schoolyards, the dangerous sides of its do-gooder message seep into our homes. It creates problems where there were once none.

My daughter now faces demons she shouldn't have to face. Not at age 7 at least. Instead of being able to shovel her Mac and Cheese, to slurp down a juice box with abandon before running back out to the swings, she now stops to consider the "costs."

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Kids' Diets: Why We Need Immovable Love, Not 'Let's Move'