They called Ronald Reagan the Great Communicator, but after seeing First Lady Michelle Obama speak with such lasered intensity in Alpharetta about her program to end child obesity, I think I’ve seen his match.
Say what you like about her husband’s politics, you have to give the first lady her due. She is an advocate without peer.
Her “Let’s Move” campaign targets junk food and computers as prime enemies of good nutrition and exercise, and First Mom Obama has made it her cause to turn all of that around.
She came to North Point Community Church to celebrate the successes of the first year of the campaign and to redouble efforts for more nutritious options in school cafeterias and create a more active and energetic environment for children and young people.
In making this kickoff speech in Georgia, she said she was coming into the belly of the beast. Georgia has the second-highest incidence of child obesity in the country, with one in three children considered overweight.
In all, it was about a 20-minute address. They opened the doors at 1:30 p.m. for a program that began at 4 p.m. That was to give the GBI and other security time to pass everyone through the security check. Once inside, some talented bands and a gospel choir provided entertainment until magic time.
When First Mom came out, it was a happy crowd, ready for her to work her magic, and did she ever. She has the gift of reducing the issue and the solution to crystal clarity.
Granted, this is not rocket science we are talking here. Eating healthy and getting exercise has been the parental catechism at least since my day. But society has changed so fast. Working parents are the norm, and the stay-at-home mom is the exception.
As Obama noted, when parents come home from a long day at work, they don’t have the energy to stay on the kids to eat right (which usually means mom has to come home and cook that dinner, too). So instead of that one family meal at dinner, they eat as they pass through the kitchen on their way somewhere else.
She pointed out that super-sized meals at the local fast-food emporium seldom contain super nutrition.
So our children are overweight and sedentary. That leads to early diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol in our kids, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
The costs of the situation manifest themselves in many ways. She noted that the U.S. military spends million of dollars on new recruits who are so out of shape, they cannot even begin basic training. They can’t run around the block, they can’t touch their toes or do a push up.
Obama placed the blame squarely where it belongs, on the shoulders of Mom and Dad. We have let the TV become the great pacifier for our children. It was all right in her day (and mine) when we would watch our Saturday morning cartoons.
“But come 12 o’clock, cartoons were over and we had to get outside,” Obama said. “Today, they have whole networks devoted to children’s entertainment.”
And at the grocery store they now have aisle after aisle devoted to cookies, snacks, crackers and soda. Why? Because that is what the parents buy.
Whatever did we do before the microwave? We sacrifice everything, even our children’s health for ease, convenience and speed.
Oh, Obama nailed it, all right. It is like anything else in parenting. Kids want to follow the path of least resistance, and will kick and scream like government mules when you try to get them to take any other path. So day by day, meal by meal, the social dynamics we grew up with are broken down.
Cable TV means everyone has one’s own TV. The Internet leads to separate computers. Suddenly, our children relate best to people of dubious repute whom they meet in chat rooms and mushrooming social media.
When I was a kid, we went outside to play war and battled until dark. Now, kids sit in the dark and play war with their thumbs. Sports? Ditto.
So to affect real change means making little but significant changes in our everyday lives.
However, Obama had examples of turning things around, and these too, she said, were to the credit of parents’ actions. Demands for more nutrition in schools have led to the installation of salad bars and gardens where students get introduced to vegetables that they grow themselves.
In answer to parental demands, Wal-Mart has pledged to reduce sugar-, salt- and transfat-laden products on its shelves and has increased fruits and vegetables at lower prices. The people did that, she said. But it is she who brings the attention of the public and the media, and that is the magic.
You knew when Michelle Obama was campaigning with her husband that she would be an activist first lady. Some might say she took an easier path than say Hillary Rodham Clinton did. Maybe she has taken a smarter path.
She’s not fighting for health care in the halls of Congress. She is taking the fight into the kitchens of our homes – and into the schools and the playgrounds. In short, she’s going to the grassroots.
What it takes is the effort to galvanize and energize people to get to the root of the problem. And it doesn’t take a lot of money to eat healthier – probably less. Walking around the block together isn’t expensive. But it takes the will to do these things.
For all our individualism, we Americans are great joiners. We like to get on the bandwagon with a good cause. That is why there is no second-hand smoke in our public places, or cigarette ads on TV. We think about our planet and don’t litter, because we remember that Indian with a single tear running down his face.
Now comes another great problem that requires only our will to solve. But it took Michelle Obama to hitch up the team and trot that bandwagon out before anyone could climb aboard.