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Child Obesity in the Nanny State

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Earlier this month, President Obama created a task force on childhood obesity to be headed by Michelle Obama, who has taken up the issue as her public-service cause under the banner "Let's Move."

Pointing to the nearly one-third of U.S. children who are either obese or overweight, the administration will pursue a legislative agenda to support its efforts, expanding the federal school-lunch program by $10 billion over 10 years and spending $400 million to bring grocery stores to so-called food deserts, urban and rural areas without adequate food stores.

So I guess this means we'll now own the corner groceries, right next to our federally owned and operated car dealerships.

Mrs. Obama comes at the issue as a mother. In interviews, she says her pediatrician pulled her aside and encouraged her to improve her family's health status by initiating portion control, eliminating high-calorie convenience foods and sugary drinks, and getting her daughters moving with more exercise and less TV time.

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She listened to her children's doctor, and her daughters are healthier for it.

Now, the Obamas have committed themselves to eliminating not only the possibility that their daughters might be overweight, but also the entire nation's childhood obesity health crisis, in the span of one generation.

No one can argue that this would be a good thing, as obesity is almost entirely preventable and contributes to some of the costliest maladies burdening our health care system.

Yet at the same time, Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move" initiative was announced, researchers at Ohio State University released a study that shows three factors most effectively reduce the risk of childhood obesity: eating family meals together several times per week, getting adequate sleep and limiting TV time.

Notably, these highly effective, risk-reducing solutions aren't likely to be influenced by a multibillion-dollar federal government "investment." In fact, they rely on exactly the tactics Mrs. Obama used — greater parental supervision and more healthful decision-making for one's own children.

Good intentions aside, a presidential task force isn't going to do what millions of American parents already don't do — namely, pull the plug on the 68 percent of kids with televisions in their bedrooms, or on the average 53 hours per week that "Generations M's" (8-to-18-year-olds) spend engaged with electronic media.

Nor will the task force change the way most families eat. For decades, our federal government already has offered far-reaching programs for nutrition promotion, food subsidies and disease prevention, and as Mrs. Obama points out, these problems are not going away.

On the other hand, we now have an abundance of government Web sites representing the growing nanny state for personal lifestyle support.

It's worth a tour of the ".gov" cybersphere to see just how involved our federal bureaucracy is in our daily lives. The subject of nutrition alone already enjoys millions of dollars in government Internet attention — never mind the countless publications, pamphlets and educational programs.

In addition to Mrs. Obama's new Web site, we can learn what and how to eat at, (another USDA site), (yet another USDA site), (the National Institute of Food and Agriculture/Families, Youth and Communities), (Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion), and USDA's Food and Nutrition service at, among others.

Clearly, there is nothing about eating that the U.S. government isn't already telling us, so maybe that's not the problem.

Mrs. Obama is a concerned mother, and she sets a strong example for those who ought to implement many of her proven and effective parenting strategies. I applaud the use of her platform to urge Americans to face the childhood-obesity issue as a way to do a better job of parenting, period.

That's because it's not only an obesity crisis we face; it's a parenting crisis and a crisis of adulthood that has convinced too many Americans that our federal bureaucracy has an appropriate role in teaching us not just how to eat, but how to live.

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