Fitness and Nutrition Are Not Partisan Issues

This is my 1,000th post on this blog. Wow.

I don’t generally like talking about politics on my blog. I’m pretty well-rooted in my beliefs and I usually don’t have the time or energy to debate someone else’s beliefs.

But lately I’ve been disgusted with some of the rhetoric being thrown around about the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and her Let’s Move initiative. Some conservatives are calling it “nanny state” politics, with the government trying to dictate what we eat and how much exercise we get. Sarah Palin accused her of trying to take away all of our desserts. And just recently Rush Limbaugh (who is in no position to criticize on this issue) made cracks about Mrs. Obama eating ribs and not being slim enough to advocate for an anti-obesity campaign.

Are you kidding me? Anyone who thinks Michelle Obama is fat seriously needs new glasses.

The problem is that this is one big smoke screen – a chance to throw around hate speech and turn minds against the current administration over a topic that is 100% not partisan.

The Let’s Move initiative was designed to encourage healthier habits in our families and children to fight childhood obesity and give our kids a shot at living longer than we do. These initiatives focus on both nutrition and fitness, with goals of making healthier food available for school lunches and encouraging more physical activity for kids. And it’s all about information sharing and greater food variety, not mandatory diets and exercise. No one is outlawing cheesecake or chaining you to a treadmill.

How is this political? Does someone out there truly believe that kids today are perfectly fit and we need less healthy food and less physical activity in our schools?

There are 9 year old kids developing Type 2 diabetes now, which used to be called “adult-onset” diabetes. Kids who are morbidly obese and need cholesterol drugs to prevent a heart attack. Kids who have no idea how to ride a bike, but can master Grand Turismo on their XBox. It’s sad.

Some may argue that the problem stems from poor parenting and poor choices. You don’t have to buy the chips and soda – you can choose to cook more instead. But healthier foods can cost more, especially in inner city areas that may not have access to fresh fruits and veggies. And cooking takes time – families where parents work 2 or 3 jobs don’t always have time to cook a healthy meal from scratch.

OK, fine, let’s assume lazy parenting is a valid excuse. I’d then argue that the excuses of poor parenting and poor choices are exactly why programs like Let’s Move are needed. Without the proper education and training, parents can’t be expected to make the best choices for their families. A mom who grew up never learning how to cook will have a hard time trying to cook for her kids. (Ahem…me.) Kids who aren’t introduced to healthy foods early on will likely be unwilling to try them when they’re older. (Not quite me…I grew out of my Doritos and Fla-vor-ice phase, thankfully.) Physics also reminds us that an object at rest tends to stay at rest, and the body is no exception.

You can throw around terms like “personal responsibility” all you want, but if those individuals are never given the tools and training they need, they’ll never succeed.

It would be like asking me to change the oil on my car: I drive the car, so you could argue that it’s my responsibility to keep it maintained. But I’ve never been taught how to do it – oh sure, I’ve seen it done a few times - if I tried I’d likely make a big mess of it. Now if someone taught me how to do it, I could do it every 5,000 miles like recommended.

Encouraging healthier school lunches, teaching families about nutrition, incorporating fitness into every school day – these are not partisan issues. These are common sense solutions to a national health epidemic. You want to save money on health care? Start by encouraging those around you to be healthier. Get our kids healthy, and those habits will be passed on to their kids and hopefully future generations.

And finally, for those who still feel that this is a liberal intrusion into your personal lives, I’d like to remind you of President Ronald Reagan, thought by many to be the saint of the conservatives, and his executive order on December 31, 1982. You see, Reagan was totally into initiatives like this. When he became president, there was already a President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. But he wasn’t content to simply let it remain as it was.

On the last day of the year in 1982, Reagan signed an executive order broadening the reach of the council and initiating “programs to inform the general public of the importance of exercise and the link between regular physical activity, good health, and effective performance.” Sound familiar?

This included developing more fitness programs in schools and community centers, coordinating federal programs to encourage fitness, coordinating with health organizations to develop fitness guidelines and encourage further research into sports medicine, and even working with private businesses and labor organizations to encourage fitness initiatives in the workplace. The First Lady, Nancy Reagan, chaired the first National Women’s Leadership Conference on Fitness. (Hey, look, it’s a First Lady championing a health and fitness initiative!)

(There’s a lot more on the history of this council - it’s good reading.)

In other words – there’s a precedent for ALL of this. It’s been done, by both political parties, and therefore Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign is nothing more than a fresh slogan and a few new ideas to tackle a subject the government has cared about since Eisenhower. It’s not a liberal or conservative battle, but something we should all be invested in.

Even if you exercise and cook nutritious meals from scratch each day, you need to be invested in this issue, because the health of those around you will have an impact on you, whether it be through increased health care costs or a lack of workers due to high disability rates.

Don’t listen to the hype and the hate spewed out by some about Let’s Move. No one is taking away your dessert, I promise. The point of it is to make better choices – as someone who’s lost weight, I can vouch that it’s really about making better choices 90% of the time, and enjoying the splurge 10% of the time. Again, none of this is mandatory – placing a salad bar in your child’s school is not forcing your child to eat vegetables, it’s about providing choice and education.

And if it is somehow forcing your child to eat vegetables, I’d like to apply for a grant to get one in my kitchen.

And one final note for all my 30-something friends: remember those damn President’s Physical Fitness Challenges in school? (They were required for us.) Yeah, I was always a failure at those. I was clearly the target audience for these programs.

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  1. Brilliant, well thought out post! I hope you don’t mind if I share this?

  2. Please share!

  3. Here, Here!

  4. Thank you! Sometimes I think that if Laura Bush had been a democrat the conservatives would have been against literacy!

  5. Very well said, Christina – I’m going to share this too!

  6. Absolutely! The criticisms I’ve heard recently are beyond ridiculous.

  7. I agree, very well said. And I was also abysmal at the President’s Physical Fitness Test!

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