Super-sized plan needed for childhood obesity

Every first lady has a cause — women's rights, drug abuse prevention, children's literacy. And often, what's near and dear to her heart is a reflection of our country at that time.

So when Michelle Obama recently unveiled her campaign against childhood obesity, it was no surprise. We've been noticing our nation's growing waistline for some time now.

I think it started with value meals and the doubling of meat patties. Meals went from being scheduled to on-the-go, anytime, all day. From there, it seems our country just grew into its overindulgent ways. We want more of everything: food, TV, Internet and video games. And children take their cue from us.

Exercise? Mostly they sit and stare into screens. High-tech toys do everything for them. Imagination is optional. Playgrounds aren't as packed as they once were. Recreational play isn't what it used to be.

The result of the more food, more technology, less play attitude? A whopping third of American children are overweight or obese.

According to Trust for America's Health, a nonprofit dedicated to a healthier nation, about 31 percent of children in Missouri and Kansas face weight problems.

That's why we have initiatives in the Kansas City area like Weighing In, a childhood obesity collaborative between the Mother & Child Health Coalition and Children's Mercy Hospital.

The partnership (www.mchc.net) helps prevent and reduce childhood obesity. It raises awareness through the Eat Small campaign — billboards around town promote portion control with slogans such as Choose Smart.

Yvonne Dorsey, director of childhood obesity prevention for the Mother & Child Health Coalition, says she is thrilled with Michelle Obama's commitment.

The first lady's "Let's Move" campaign (www.letsmove.gov ) is massive. She has requested $10 billion over the next 10 years to update the Child Nutrition Act and help get healthier choices into school lunches. She wants support for farmers markets and more affordable, healthy choices at neighborhood grocery stores. Nutrition labels are going to get easier to read, and calories are moving to the front of soda cans. And she's pushing for an hour of exercise for kids every day.

Dorsey says the first lady has a great plan, but we all have to work together for it to be effective:

"With childhood obesity on the rise, our kids' life expectancy will be shortened if we do not change our lifestyle and food choices.

"We have to be more educated about the food we eat and more active in our everyday lives. The more we do it as a community, the more we model it, the more natural it will become for our kids."

We have a long battle ahead of us. And we all have to do our part. It's going to take a super-sized plan of attack for these hefty troubles.