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Sarah Palin Opposed to First Lady's Anti-Obesity Campaign

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Guest blogger Kate Tuttle: Michelle Obama, following in established First Lady footsteps, has adopted a couple of issues to focus on as an advocate during her husband's time in office. For both Laura and Barbara Bush, the issues were education and literacy; for Hillary Clinton, it was women and children's health. In other words, being married to the President and working on the behalf of relatively uncontroversial feel-good issues just kind of go together. So there's nothing really shocking about Michelle Obama planting a vegetable garden at the White House, going on "Sesame Street" to talk about healthy eating with Elmo or promoting her "Let's Move!" campaign against childhood obesity. Except to Sarah Palin.

Sarah Palin
On Laura Ingraham's radio show last week, the former Republican Vice Presidential candidate slammed Michelle Obama's anti-obesity program, warning that it smacks of government intrusion into parental decisions over how to feed and raise children.

A quote: "Take her anti-obesity thing that she is on. She is on this kick, right. What she is telling us is she cannot trust parents to make decisions for their own children, for their own families in what we should eat. And I know I'm going to be again criticized for bringing this up, but instead of a government thinking that they need to take over and make decisions for us according to some politician or politician's wife priorities, just leave us alone, get off our back and allow us as individuals to exercise our own God-given rights to make our own decisions and then our country gets back on the right track."

Now, I've read the stuff on the Let's Move website (which has sections on food and nutrition, exercise and other health-related topics). I'm not seeing any kind of massive government takeover of the food industry, and certainly not of individual families' kitchens. What I do see is middle-of-the-road, common-sense advice and information for parents, as well as some policy recommendations for better product package information (so that, for instance, junk food cannot hide its true caloric and sodium loads by misleading consumers about the size of a "portion") and a call for partnerships with pediatricians so that children's doctors get more involved in supporting families to raise healthier kids. Nobody's advocating taking away parental authority over kids, although I have to admit, there are times when I wish I could intervene whenever I see a family of supersized kids whose parents clearly are contributing to their lifelong poor health.

Another kid-focused political food fight is in the works, this one on Capitol Hill, where Congress is prepared to vote this week on a bill authorizing an expansion of eligibility for free and reduced school lunches -- particularly needed in today's economy, where an estimated 20 percent of children (35 percent of black children) are living at or below the poverty line. (Those figures are from 2008, so they are certainly understated.) The bill also sets new guidelines in place to ensure that school lunches are nutritionally sound. Given that many children receive inadequate meals at home, making sure that what they get at school is good for them seems to be eminently sound public policy. Even the relatively conservative FOXNews organization argues that school lunch programs are essential to helping break the cycle of poverty.

Palin's just using this issue to make political hay -- and I think this one might backfire on her. If there's one thing everybody agrees on, it's that our kids deserve the best lives we can prepare them for. As divided as our country is right now, it's hard to picture anybody but the most extreme Palin fan really buying her argument. As this piece in the Huffington Post makes clear, it may be poor politics for Palin to attack Michelle Obama, who remains more popular than her husband (a common situation for First Ladies), and especially for a program that aims to help children's health, an issue with which it is difficult to ... well, take issue. But Palin works in mysterious ways.

I'm eager to see where she takes this -- and whether or not anyone will follow.


next: Putting Baby on Auto-Soothe
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