First Lady Michelle Obama plans to visit Springfield, Mo. Thursday as part of her effort to promote healthy lifestyle choices for kids and reduce the risk of childhood obesity. The first lady is touring three cities in two days to mark the third anniversary of her Let’s Move! campaign. Springfield will be her last stop on the tour, after Clinton, Miss. and Chicago, Ill.
The First Lady will talk about three aspects of the fight against childhood obesity while on tour: school lunches, physical fitness, and food deserts. When in Springfield, she will be visiting a Walmart and discussing the issue of “food deserts” in America. A food desert is an area with limited access to stores that offer fresh foods at affordable prices needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle. There are currently more than 6,500 food deserts in the continental U.S., according to the USDA Economic Research Service.
The latest Center for Disease Control and Prevention report said approximately 35 percent of all U.S. adults are obese, which is slightly higher than Missouri’s 31 percent obesity level. However, Missouri has still ranked in the top 15 most obese states in the U.S. for the past six years of research, coming in 12th nationwide in 2011. The data for 2012 has not yet been released.
MU Associate Professor of Rural Sociology Mary Grigsby said people who live in food deserts have to travel longer distances to buy fresh produce, even those people who live in rural farming areas.
“It’s an access issue where prepared foods, processed foods, foods that maybe are not as healthy are ones that they can get and have available readily,” Grisgsby said.
Another problem that contributes to the increasing obesity level is kids developing obesity at a young age, which usually will continue into adulthood. A publication from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services states that an obese teen has a 70 to 80 percent chance of remaining obese as an adult.
Obesity means more than extra weight – it can be measured fiscally as well. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, obese American adults spend 36 percent more on medical bills and expenses than those who are a healthy weight.
Although there is a wealth of information about the causes and effects of obesity, Grigsby said there’s still more research to be done.
“I think if you look at the basic data, you will find that poverty itself is one of the variables that influences obesity," Grigsby said. "But, in terms of food insecurity, part of the problem is that the literature is inconsistent in how it defines obesity so comparable findings are not available. ”
The First Lady plans to reduce the variables that cause obesity by promoting the Let’s Move! campaign to people of all ages. The mission of Let’s Move! is to reduce the number of obese children in the U.S. so the number of obese adults doesn’t rise over time. The first lady advocates that a few small changes in lifestyle are all it takes to lower these numbers and keep kids healthy.