“Let’s Move!” Campaign’s Four Year Anniversary Met with Push-Back from Politicians, Food Industry

Recently, First Lady Michelle Obama celebrated the fourth anniversary of the “Let’s Move!” campaign, an initiative focused on preventing obesity among American youth, with a number of appearances and events. Yet, perhaps more unexpectedly she also defended the program by speaking out against a proposed waiver option, which would roll back some of the changes enacted in the past years as a result of this campaign. The beginnings of the “Let’s Move!” initiative in 2010 correlates with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFK Act), which adopted federal nutritional regulations for federal food programs that serve children. Although that legislation easily passed when introduced four years ago, recently an agriculture bill introduced in the U.S. House  would allow some schools to avoid these requirements through the implementation of a waiver program.

Let’s Move Campaign

According to the “Let’s Move!” website, the initiatives’ goals are five-fold: (1) creating a healthy start for children; (2) empowering parents and caregivers; (3) providing healthy foods in schools; (4) improving access to healthy, affordable foods; and (5) increasing physical activity. The website also provides specific instructions on ways in which schools can join the HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC), which “establishes rigorous standards for schools’ food quality, participation in meal programs, physical activity opportunities, and nutrition education.” Two years after the First Lady challenged schools with that program in 2010, it was announced that 2,862 schools had met those goals.

Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act

The HHFK Act allowed the Department of Agriculture to set nutritional standards for federal food programs serving children, including school lunches. The regulations were implemented by the USDA in stages and gradually required the replacement of foods and drinks that are high in fat, sodium, and sugar, with nutritious foods that contain lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and larger quantities of fruits and vegetables. According to a recent report by Politico, the HHFK bill unsurprisingly “passed unanimously in the Senate and made it comfortably through the House.”

Recent Push-Back, Responses, and Reactions

However, in a recently released agriculture and food safety budget proposed by House Republicans, a waiver to the federal school lunch regulations for schools that report trouble with compliance was announced. In response, during what NBC Nightly News called, “a foray into the political arena… like we have rarely seen or heard from her before,” the First Lady voiced her opposition to the waiver program. She stated that the option to waive the federal regulation would “undo the hard work all of us have done for our kids,” and that it was “unacceptable to [her] not just as First Lady but as a mother.” Other reports note that the support for the waiver program stem directly from the food industry, which in the past years has successfully lobbied to relax the federal standards. For instance, the Washington Post reported that in 2011 frozen food lobbyists won the fight to “amend the rules so pizza with tomato sauce could be counted as a vegetable.” However, support for the waiver program does not rest solely within the food industry. When it comes to the recently proposed waiver option, the School Nutrition Association (SNA), which previously backed the federal nutritional requirements, now supports noncompliance with those regulations in the form of the waiver. According to the SNA, nutritional rules are resulting in plate waste in school cafeterias and, in turn, many schools are having issues with compliance. As a result, the SNA has publicly declared support for the waiver program. Meanwhile, the Washington Post cited statistics that showed 90 percent of schools were able to comply with the federal regulations, yet the report also noted that the SNA has disputed those statistics. While there has been hints towards the success of initiatives such as “Let’s Move!” in recent analysis, the future of the program’s goals with respect to school lunches could be in jeopardy if faced with push-back not only from the usual suspects of the food industry but also from within the school nutrition administration.