Children's Health in the National Spotlight

By Naomi Dillon

The much-publicized planting of the White House vegetable garden in spring 2009 was the first sign of something big to come.

Not since World War II and Eleanor Roosevelt had crops of produce appeared on the presidential lawn. Besides First Lady Michelle Obama, the groundbreaking ceremony featured recently appointed Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a proponent of sustainable living, and two dozen fifth-graders from a nearby elementary school who would tend and harvest the 1,100-square foot plot sprinkled with 55 varieties of vegetables, herbs, berries, honeycombs, and bees.

By February, Obama had turned her passion into a Cabinet-level cause, unveiling Let’s Move!, a White House initiative that calls on everyone, from parents to policymakers, to make the health of future generations a priority.

Every week since then, it seems like a new group, program, or campaign is being waged in the fight against childhood obesity. PepsiCo recently announced it would stop selling sugar-laden drinks in primary and secondary schools worldwide by 2012. And the new Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation -- a consortium of nearly 80 U.S. retailers, food manufacturers, and nonprofits pledging to reduce 1.5 trillion calories from Americans’ annual food consumption by 2015 -- was set to release a nutrition and exercise curriculum for elementary schools at press time.

It seems unfortunate that more than 30 years of studies, warnings, and gloomy forecasts about the waning health of Americans hasn’t elicited this kind of coordinated effort before now. Predictions that most adults will be overweight or obese by 2030, or that today’s youth will have a shorter lifespan than their parents, is a call to action if there ever was one. 

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