One year ago this week, the Obama administration launched Let's Move, an initiative to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation. It's an ambitious -- but critically important -- goal.
In the last 30 years, the percentage of American children who are overweight or obese has tripled. Diet-related disease, diminished academic performance and a shortened life expectancy threaten the future of our kids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three American children born in the year 2000 is on a path toward Type II diabetes. Among children of color, the figure approaches one in two. Retired Generals describe a coming crisis of national security: already, 27% of 17-24 year olds are ineligible for military service because of excess body fat.
This administration has placed a strong emphasis on healthy futures for our children, and rightly so: America's sweeping epidemic of childhood obesity requires us to martial a national response. The Obama Administration has facilitated the development of the USDA Farm to School Team, Chefs Move to Schools program, Let's Move Salad Bars to Schools, Walmart's Nutrition Charter, and the signing of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which created $5 million per year in mandatory funding for a Farm to School Competitive Grant Program. First Lady Michelle Obama has put powerful muscle behind the Let's Move cause.
When I was at the White House Childhood Obesity Forum in April 2010, one of the First Lady's statements truly resonated with me: "What we have done is start a national conversation. But we need your help to propel that conversation into a national response."
Ask and ye shall receive.
This week, FoodCorps, a brand new and much anticipated national service organization, opens applications for its first class of service members. Those selected will dedicate one year of full-time public service in school food systems -- sourcing healthful local food for school cafeterias, expanding nutrition education programs, and building and tending school gardens.
Those activities are directly referenced in the May 2010 report to the President, where the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity outlined 70 specific recommendations to create an action plan for solving the problem of childhood obesity in a generation. Among its recommendations, numbers 3.6 and 3.11 highlight Farm to School and school gardens as community based solutions to childhood obesity.
The Task Force prescribed the kind of programs FoodCorps leaders will implement: "Where possible, use school gardens to educate students about healthy eating. School gardens offer opportunities for fun and physical activity while also serving as an important educational tool to help students understand how healthful food is produced."
FoodCorps seeks up to 80 young men and women with a passion for serving their country by building healthy communities. Beginning in August 2011, service members will get their hands dirty in one of 10 states: Arizona, Arkansas, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina or Oregon.
Aiming to utilize successful public service models, FoodCorps will leverage a modest amount of federal, philanthropic and corporate funds to answer the administration's call to action: place young adults in high-need communities, with the mission of improving children's education about and access to healthy food.
I call that a national response.