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My recent visit to Washington…

Updated: 8/14/21 11:00 amPublished: 8/31/11
By Kelly Close

I recently had the honor of visiting the White House to hear First Lady Michelle Obama speak on a topic critical to childhood obesity – access to healthy food. Public figures sometimes read speeches from note cards or a teleprompter, and those remarks can sound flat – just one more duty on a busy schedule. But the First Lady – well, she barely looked at her notes, and her speech was all-out inspiring. She was conversational, funny, poised, and certainly impassioned. She spoke for nearly 20 minutes about ending (yes, ending) childhood obesity and about how grocery chains big and small are working to provide fresh food (especially fruits and vegetables) to nearly ten million people in the US who do not have access to nutritious alternatives. They live in “food deserts.”

According to the Department of Agriculture, a food desert applies to impoverished areas in which the nearest supermarket or large grocery store is more than a mile away (in urban areas) or more than ten miles away (in rural areas). To state the obvious, access to nutritious food is necessary for a healthy life.

The First Lady has had an equally committed partner – her husband – in her crusade against childhood obesity. In February of 2010, President Obama created a Task Force on Childhood Obesity, and that announcement coincided with Mrs. Obama’s launching of Let’s Move! To support that initiative, a collaboration of nonprofits and foundations built the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), whose major focus is to build anti-childhood-obesity collaborations between private companies and the public sector. We learn more about this effort in this month’s interview with the highly respected Larry Soler and Dr. James Gavin, PHA’s CEO and Chairman of the Board, respectively.

Let’s be honest. Childhood obesity is not, shall we say, particularly sexy. It does not move everyone to tears, and it is staggeringly complicated to solve. But the toll it’s taking on our youth is profound, so we salute the First Lady for confronting this crisis with energy, compassion, and good humor. We now hope that the President and the First Lady take this cause to a bigger stage.

In September, the United Nations’ High-Level Summit on Non-Communicable Diseases is expected to focus on diabetes and obesity. We would love to see the Obamas attend and make their case to the international community that these medical conditions, particularly among our children, are unacceptable in any country. Prevention is the key, and prevention is also possible – provided that our leaders make it a priority.

If Barack and Michelle Obama can make real progress on this front – if they can begin to reverse health trends that will lead to longer, better lives for millions across the world – it would be one of their proudest legacies.

Moving from meetings and proclamations to real-world care will require long, hard, and, regrettably, underpaid work from nurses, dietitians, and certified diabetes educators. We met some of them at this year’s American Association of Diabetes Educators (AADE) meeting in August. On a potentially upbeat note, a number of companies are working with nurses to create innovative applications and software platforms for mobile phones – see the promising details in this issue’s New Now Next. We believe the best of the best of the new technology will help patients, nurses, and doctors alike1.

Wherever the new technology takes us, bringing obesity and diabetes complications to an end will still fall to us. It won’t ever be easy, and it won’t ever happen by itself. But with help as high up as the White House and as close by as our cell phones, at least we won’t be facing this struggle alone.

Very best,

1Do you have a favorite app? If so, please write me about it here – what it is and why - and we’ll send the most compelling a cool gift card.

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About the authors

Kelly L. Close is the founder and Chair of the Board of The diaTribe Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of people living with diabetes and prediabetes, and... Read the full bio »