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Published February 15, 2010, 04:00 AM

First lady kicks off campaign

WASHINGTON — First lady Michelle Obama on Feb. 9 launched a childhood anti-obesity campaign that would require changes in food and agriculture policy while President Obama showed his commitment to the effort by signing a memorandum of understanding among several Cabinet level departments establishing a task force to come up with a plan within 90 days to end childhood obesity “within a generation.”

By: Jerry Hagstrom, Special to Agweek

WASHINGTON — First lady Michelle Obama on Feb. 9 launched a childhood anti-obesity campaign that would require changes in food and agriculture policy while President Obama showed his commitment to the effort by signing a memorandum of understanding among several Cabinet level departments establishing a task force to come up with a plan within 90 days to end childhood obesity “within a generation.”

Surrounded by Cabinet secretaries, key members of Congress including Senate Health Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Tom Harkin and House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., as well as private sector leaders in the White House state dining room, Obama said, “We’re determined to finally take on one of the most serious threats to (American children’s) future.” She added that obesity is “an issue that’s of great concern to me not just as a first lady, but as a mom.”

Her campaign, she said, would be called “Let’s Move,” with a Web site at www.Let’sMove.gov.

Obama noted that in the past three decades, childhood obesity rates have tripled, leading to problems ranging from high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type II diabetes to teasing and bullying. She also noted that military leaders now report that obesity is one of the most common disqualifiers for military service.

Program funding

In the biggest policy development involving Congress, Obama said the administration wants to use the $10 billion-in-10-years increase for child nutrition programs that’s in the president’s fiscal year 2011 budget to increase the 31 million children served meals by 1 million and to improve meals. She said part of the money would be used to train school food service workers, upgrade kitchen equipment and increase the per-meal funding for school districts so that additional fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products will be served in school cafeterias.

Obama said that by the end of 2010, FDA will begin working with retailers and manufacturers to adopt new nutrition labels that will be on the fronts of packages. The White House said the American Beverage Association already has agreed that within two years member companies will put front of pack calorie labels on cans, bottles, vending and fountain machines. The label will reflect total calories per container up to a 20-ounce service size, but larger containers will reflect a 12-ounce serving size.

Obama also announced that the administration has set a goal of eliminating food deserts — areas of cities that have no major grocery stores — in seven years and that the Treasury, Agriculture and the Health and Human Services departments intend to invest $400 million to help bring grocery stores to underserved areas and help convenience stores and bodegas carry healthier food options.

The effort also will include major efforts to encourage children to get more exercise.