Last month Deborah Lapidus, Senior Organizer at Corporate Accountability International attended the U.S. Conference of Mayors where Mrs. Obama emphatically addressed the national epidemic of diet-related diseases. As the First Lady warned, this health crisis will have a worse toll than tobacco unless we change course now.
In terms of interest in public health and the environment, Mrs. Obama has brought national attention by planting the White House vegetable garden, joining in physical activities like hula-hooping, and visiting Sesame Street to discuss the virtues of eating right with Elmo.
The taskforce guiding Mrs. Obama’s decisions are Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. The team has just issued a new report The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation 2010 which makes general recommendations for a healthier America to combat obesity and improve quality of life.
The report is disappointingly vague in its recommendations, and raises several questions:
Can Regina Benjamin put aside her previous industry connections, as a nutritional advisor to Burger King, to call for fast food giants to be held accountable for their role in the epidemic of diet-related disease?
Even as she partners with Sesame Street characters to promote healthy eating, the show itself is sponsored by McDonald's, exposing millions of very young children to fast food branding at a vulnerable time in their development. How will Mrs. Obama deal with mixed messages like this?
And will HHS be brave enough overall to stand up to the food industry, and put our kids health before profits and the corporate agenda?