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Giving a “High Five” on Childhood Obesity Prevention

Catherine is a senior communications professional helping social change organizations tell their story in powerful ways. She has expertise in public health, environmental stewardship, philanthropy and education. Follow her on Twitter @CatBrozena

A Look-Back at five years of the First Lady’s Let’s Move Initiative

Let’s take a little walk back in time to just five years ago.

It was February 2010. The Winter Olympics were kicking off in Vancouver, British Columbia; China was preparing to ring in an auspicious Year of the Tiger; and the World Economic was getting underway in Davos, Switzerland with a focus on reforming the banking system.

Here in the States, First Lady Michelle Obama had a focus of her own, turning her attention to the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, using her political clout to cast a national spotlight on the health crisis affecting more than a third of the nation’s children and adolescents.


The First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative was launched in February 2010 as a campaign to get kids healthier, to meet the challenge of childhood obesity head on by fostering environments that support healthier choices – like providing healthier foods in schools, more opportunities for kids to be physically active and helpful information for parents and families to guide them in supporting their children’s health.

Let’s Move! coincided with a series of events that seemed to spawn an awakening in the nation’s consciousness about the problem of obesity and the measures needed to start bending the nation’s health trajectory in a different direction.

A first-ever White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity was established to develop and implement a coordinated strategy and action plan for tackling the epidemic. Efforts were under way to create a kitchen garden on the White House lawns as a way to teach kids about nutrition and healthy food. And the National Prevention Strategy was put forth in June 2011 to focus the country’s health efforts away from “sick care” and disease to one based on wellness and prevention.

Healthy SchoolsIn 2012, the groundbreaking HBO documentary The Weight of the Nation aired with a series of national screenings aimed at raising public awareness about about the obesity crisis and the changes we needed to make to our food systems, our physical environments and our school and workplace policies to better support health. A year later, The Weight of the Nation for Kids was launched with a similar focus, telling the story through the eyes and ears and minds of young people facing the challenges of obesity.

All these events and conversations created a heightened awareness in the public eye about the problems of obesity and the myriad of ways to we should address it – from proposed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages to building more walkable/bikeable urban centers, from greater demand for farmers markets to policies in the workplace that support more physical activity during the workday.

Health in schools becomes critical focus

With a stronger focus on building environments at home and in the community “to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” the nation has honed in on schools — places where young people learn health habits that they’ll carry with them through their lifetime — as ground zero for making changes. In their 2012 publication, Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention, the Institute of Medicine identified schools as the places where young people spend up to half of their waking hours and consume more than half of their daily calories. The institution called on everyone to help “strengthen schools as the heart of health.”

Nowadays, healthy school meals and school nutrition standards are hot topics in the news and in politics. Pizza and tater tots are being replaced by fresh fruit and salad bars in many schools. The health harming effects of sugar-sweetened beverages have made their way into posters and infographics and are being eliminated from school vending machines. Water has become the hero of the day, especially with the First Lady encouraging everyone to Drink Up.

photos3Recognizing that healthier food is only part of the health equation, Let’s Move Active Schools launched under the Let’s Move initiative as a collaborative effort to ensure that “60 minutes of physical activity is the new norm for schools.” The effort kicked off in 2013 with famous athletes like Serena Williams, Colin Kaepernick and Dominque Dawes leading an auditorium of more than 6,000 cheering students in a massive gym class.

And along with Let’s Move Active Schools, the focus on physical activity has taken shape in other efforts like Fire Up Your Feet, Fuel Up to Play 60 and SPARK.

Cheers to five years: celebrate, challenge and champion

So where are we five years later?

The obesity epidemic has not disappeared. But there have been signs of progress, with many urban centers and some states seeing a drop in obesity rates, and the rates of obesity in kids age 2 to 5 having declined in the last decade, according to statistics released in 2014.

And the shifts in awareness highlighted above are leading to real changes in schools and communities. The messages are starting to seep through. Fruits and vegetables are the heroes of the day and zumba has become part of our vernacular. Even politicians on opposite ends of the political divide are sparing off with Fitbit competitions.

This week, the Partnership for a Healthier America – the nonpartisan, nonprofit that was founded in conjunction with Let’s Move and tasked with carrying forth the vision of Let’s Move – kicks off its annual “Building a Healthier Future Summit” in Washington, DC. And as wellness champions from schools, communities and private industries gather together in the nation’s capital, the Let’s Move folks are encouraging us to celebrate, challenge and champion our way forward into the next year:

Let’s CELEBRATE what we have achieved together – the national conversation we have started, the changes we are seeing at every level from families’ homes to grocery stores to schools and communities.

Let’s CHALLENGE each other to dig deeper and do more to support our kids’ health. While we have come a long way, there is still a long way to go to ensure all kids have the opportunity to grow up healthy.

Let’s CHAMPION this issue for the long term. Let’s continue to innovate and collaborate to nurture our children into the future.

At Thriving Schools, we think that’s a great way to mark our collective progress and continue forward on what we know will be a long but ultimately successful journey.

  • Follow the conversation at the PHA Summit on twitter with #PHAsummit
  • Join the #GimmeFive challenge on social media – learn more.
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