Combating obesity need not be partisan

COMBATING OBESITY NEED NOT BE PARTISAN…. Of all the things for the right to complain about, First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative, combating childhood obesity, seems like it should be fairly low on the list.

There’s a genuine public health emergency surrounding the obesity epidemic, with far reaching societal implications. As part of Michelle Obama’s campaign, there’s a renewed push on cutting back on sugar, advocating sports and exercise, and encouraging families and schools to adopt a healthy approach to nutrition. This isn’t exactly controversial stuff.

At least, it shouldn’t be. Former half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) and deranged media personality Glenn Beck have blasted the effort, suggesting the First Lady is heading up a nefarious, anti-dessert campaign. Fred Hiatt digs a little deeper in a good piece today.

[I]t’s not surprising that a crusade seemingly beyond questioning would become a political battle. Interests that might feel threatened by Let’s Move include the fast-food industry, agribusiness, soft-drink manufacturers, real estate developers (because suburban sprawl is implicated), broadcasters and their advertisers (of sugary cereals and the like), and the oil-and-gas and automotive sectors (because people ought to walk more and drive less).

Throw in connections to the health-care debate (because preventive services will be key to controlling the epidemic), race (because of differential patterns of obesity) and red state-blue state hostilities (the reddest states tend to be the fattest), and it turns out there are few landmines that Michelle Obama didn’t trip by asking us all to shed a few pounds.

Insinuations from her critics notwithstanding, Obama has not endorsed nanny-state or controversial remedies such as ending sugar subsidies, imposing soda-pop taxes or zoning McDonald’s out of certain neighborhoods. Instead, she is pushing for positive, voluntary change: more recess and physical activity, more playgrounds, more vegetable gardens, fresher food in schools and grocery stores, better education on the issue for parents and children.

All of this makes total sense, and historians will marvel (much as they will at climate-change deniers) that anyone could doubt it…. [O]besity is not a Democratic or Republican issue. Obama has merely extended and amplified a campaign that began under President George W. Bush.

The farcical qualities of this are hard to overlook. Michelle Obama’s efforts are so obviously worthwhile, conspicuously unintelligent personalities like Palin and Beck are reduced to, in all seriousness, whining incessantly about child nutrition and public awareness about obesity. And because we’ve grown so inured to idiocy in the discourse, this seems depressingly routine.

But there is, of course, another alternative. While the various corporate interests concerned about “Let’s Move” have a bottom line to protect, it’s also possible that these hysterical far-right media personalities don’t mean a word of what they’re saying, and they’re pretending to be outraged because it’s their default position for anything coming out of the White House.

Either way, here’s hoping the First Lady and her team don’t back down an inch.