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I'm a little late to the party, but wanted to acknowledge Michelle Obama's joining the fight against childhood obesity, which she did last week. Her ability to focus attention on an issue is unique, and her focus on obesity is welcome. (I don't limit my own focus by age, but I don't mind if someone else does.)

I didn't attend her "Let's Move" event, of course (maybe next year I'll be on the White House guest list), so I went online to catch an 11-minute interview she did with Jim Lehrer for PBS. She skectched the problem well, noting that "1 in 3 of our kids are overweight or obese," (roughly half the magnitude of the problem in adults), and that Americans spend "$140 billion a year dealing with obesity-related illnesses," including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

I found one of Lehrer's questions curious, when he asked Obama about using the word "obesity," which he said has an unpleasant connotation. What are gonna call it, Jim, to make it more palatable, "goodie, goodie gum drops?" Obama's response was good, I thought: "We have to be realistic about how we got here, and figure out how to solve it."

If the word used to describe the problem is testy, think about the other implications: How do our leaders even approach the problem, when especially in the case of youth obesity, parents have so much culpability — by modeling their own poor food choices, by not teaching (possibly because of not understanding) the importance of healthy nutrition, and by declining to put boundaries around food habits and choices?

Obama took a pretty soft swing at that: "Parents cannot do it alone, that's one thing. ... You can't just point the finger." She's right, completely right, from a political standpoint, but I still have to wonder, if people are not protecting their kids and no one is willing to highlight the failure, how is the condition to change?

The issue, of course, is personal responsibility. Except those people who are food-raped — forcibly immobilized and had Twinkies shoved into their mouths — we are responsible for what we eat. Kids are less responsible, just as they are in almost every way, but in those cases, their parents are supposed to show them the way and then work to keep them on it.

Ideally, government would never get involved; most Americans want politicians no more in their kitchen than they do in their bedrooms. But there are legitimate public interests at stake. In addition to the $140 billion figure, there's this, which was quoted in the LA Times's "Booster Shots" blog:

Gen. Johnnie E. Wilson, U.S. Army (ret.), and Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, U.S. Air Force (ret.), said [Feb. 9, the day of Obama's launch] in a release that "... preventing child obesity is a matter of national security" and noted that "being overweight has become the Number 1 reason why potential recruits are unable to enlist in the armed services." link to Obama item

How's that for public interest? Would anyone want to argue that a nation of softies, unable to swiftly man the barricades in time of crisis, isn't ripe for toppling? Obama didn't get into the military angle, but did tell Lehrer that the issue is "critically important to the health and success of our kids and our nation."

Here's the full PBS interview:

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