THE BLOG
04/17/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The First Lady's Challenge to Us All

The First Lady is challenging the nation to end the childhood obesity epidemic in a generation. Her leadership comes not a moment too soon.

Americans may be shocked to learn that one third of children in the United States -- 23 million kids -- are obese or overweight. As a result, these kids are at risk for serious health problems like asthma and, even worse, "adult" health afflictions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Unbelievably, this isn't a "chronic problem" that we're finally getting around to addressing like drunk driving or health care. This is a vice of 21st century, with the number of overweight or obese kids increasing by as much as four fold since 1970.

And the childhood obesity epidemic is tragically married to the childhood poverty epidemic, which affects 1 in 6 children. That may sound counterintuitive but, in fact, families that are struggling to put food on the table often resort to "cheaper" calories like soda, potato chips and fast food instead of healthy -- and more expensive -- ones like fruits and vegetables.

Recognizing that ending this epidemic is a shared responsibility, Mrs. Obama's campaign -- "Let's Move" -- will work to bring together federal, state and local government, the food industry, corporate America, advocacy groups, foundations, and, perhaps most important, families and children themselves.

Her "Let's Move" campaign includes PSAs, more consumer friendly nutritional labeling, improved doctor training to advise patients and families about healthier living, better national data collection on nutrition trends, new incentives for physical activity, more school-based nutritional planning as well as policy change, like the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which will invest $10 billion to improve the quality of school lunches.

"Let's Move" will go a long way to the help reverse this epidemic. And the priorities couldn't be clearer:

• We need to eliminate junk food from schools and replace it with fresh fruits, whole grains, low-calorie drinks and balanced meals. And schools need to do more in the way of encouraging exercise and physical fitness.

• Parents should do their part by getting their kids' eyes off glowing screens and their feet on grass and pavement instead.

• We need to find ways to increase the availability of healthy foods and drinks in every neighborhood in America while ensuring fresh fruits and vegetables are affordable, so parents don't have to struggle to feed their families.

• We must provide kids with safe and secure places to play in their communities and hold corporations responsible for marketing unhealthy foods and drinks to our kids.

In addition, we should find new and innovative approaches. For example, Save the Children's U.S. Programs operates a unique physical activity and nutrition program that reaches some children living in poverty in some of the most remote parts of America.

Through the program, kids get 30 minutes of physical activity each day and a nutritious snack, like a full serving of fruits or vegetables, to improve their health. Important nutrition information is provided to schools, children and parents to encourage healthy lifestyle choices. And we work at the local, state and national levels to push for policies that combat the childhood obesity epidemic.

The First Lady made clear that it's our responsibility to ensure our children get the best start possible in life. "Let's move" to live up to that responsibility.