First lady takes obesity campaign to fattest state

WASHINGTON — If there's any doubt that opposing childhood obesity is a political winner, as well as a noble cause, Michelle Obama's upcoming trip to Mississippi, the nation's most obese state, may be more proof.

Gov. Haley Barbour, a portly Republican who's mulling a challenge to President Obama in 2012, will join the first lady at a Wednesday event in Jackson promoting school nutrition and exercise. Barbour, a former lobbyist who heads the Republican Governors Association, recently said that if he lost 40 pounds, it would mean he's running for president or has cancer.

Before heading south, Obama will speak Monday in Washington to the School Nutrition Association's Legislative Action Conference. These appearances follow others that have gotten attention in recent weeks.

As Obama settles into her post as the public face of the administration's new "Let's Move" campaign to combat childhood obesity, advocates are watching how her role will evolve — and, ultimately, how aggressive or successful her husband's administration will be at changing the standards of the food and beverage industries, schools and unhealthy eaters and their enablers.

Should health insurance rates reflect adults' and children's diets? Should food advertising on TV be reined in, and in this deficit-ridden era, how much money can the federal government spend on some of the initiatives the Obamas favor to get more fresh and healthy food into inner city markets and school lunch programs?

The first indications will come this year. Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act is overdue. The Food and Drug Administration is considering standards for new front-of-package labeling.

In his Feb. 9 memo establishing an interagency task force on childhood obesity, President Obama set a 90-day deadline for a strategic plan. That effort will pull together his economic and budget advisers, as well as officials on the first lady's staff and in departments that oversee everything from health and food and drug regulation to education and agriculture.