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White House Stats on Childhood Obesity Decline Pre-Date ‘Let's Move’

10:22 AM, Feb 28, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
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First Lady Michelle Obama is continuing her road trip celebrating the 3rd anniversary of her “Let's Move” initiative, appearing on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts on Tuesday and at an event with Rachael Ray on Wednesday. The initial press release last week gave “Let's Move” credit for halting and even reversing the childhood obesity trend of the last thirty years, though the White House did not provide data to back up its claim. Now, a new White House press release links to a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report to bolster its claims, but a closer look at the report casts further doubt.  The press release states:

Mrs. Obama and Rachael Ray chose to highlight school lunches in Mississippi, which was rated the most obese state in the nation for several years, because the state’s childhood obesity rates have declined by 13% among elementary school students in recent years.  According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Mississippi is one of several states and cities to show decreases in childhood obesity, including Philadelphia, New York City and California. Mrs. Obama praised Mississippi’s efforts and called on other states and cities to follow suit.

Mrs. Obama singled out Mississippi for special attention on Good Morning America:

"We've really changed the conversation in this country. When we started, there were a lot of people in this country who would have never thought that childhood obesity was a health crisis. But now we're starting to see some movement on this issue," the first lady told Roberts. "Our kids are eating better at school. They're moving more. And we're starting…to see a change in the trends. We're starting to see rates of obesity coming down like never before." ... 

"I'm going back to Mississippi because when I first went there, Mississippi was considered one of the most unhealthy states in the nation," Mrs. Obama said. 

"If we could fry water in Mississippi, we would, we would do that," Roberts, who grew up in Pass Christian, Mississippi, said. "Food is a culture." 

"But the good news in Mississippi is that they've seen a decline in childhood obesity of 13 percent, so we're gonna go celebrate and highlight what has been going on there. There's still work to do," the first lady said.

While Mrs. Obama credits “Let's Move” for these recent advances, the report from Robert Wood Johnson does not back up that assertion.  Here is a chart from the report that the White House refers to in its press release and from which Mrs. Obama took Mississippi's 13 percent decline:

The 13 percent decrease that Mrs. Obama touted is measured from Spring 2005 through Spring 2011. “Let's Move” was launched in February 2010, so the first five years of the time period in question were prior to Let's Move's existence.  The time period for New York City is similar, but the Philadelphia and California figures only extend through 2010, ending just as “Let's Move” got moving.

While the Robert Wood Johnson report demonstrates progress has been made in the struggle against childhood obesity, there's no proof yet that “Let's Move” has played a role, and the report does not mention the program.  While “Let's Move” has undoubtedly raised the profile of the issue, the White House will have to wait for the studies to catch up to its claims.  Even then, a direct correlation between any change in obesity rates and “Let's Move” will be difficult to verify.  But if the White House continues to cite outdated statistics to promote the success of “Let's Move,” Mrs. Obama's credibility may be diminished before current figures on childhood obesity become available.

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