The First Lady, Childhood Obesity, and Video Games

Obama Family at Easter

Yesterday we saw how, as a cultural ambassador, Mrs. Obama carried her Let’s Move! message to London for the Olympics. It’s an American tradition for the First Lady to pick a cause and lend it every ounce of clout she possesses while her husband is in office. Michelle Obama gets high marks from many observers for taking on childhood obesity, although given the eyeball evidence in our decade, she could hardly have done anything else. But it is a subject fraught with potential political trauma, a minefield of gnarly issues such as, just for one example, “farm subsidies.”

It is sad that everything always comes down to economic motives, even the health of our kids. Don’t blame obesity as a condition that causes millions of cumulative child-years of human misery. Instead, the smart move is to raise the alarm about childhood obesity as a plague that will unbearably strain the nation’s ability to pay medical bills. In her speeches, Michelle Obama emphasizes the far-reaching consequences of the epidemic:

When kids aren’t healthy, they miss more days of school, which means higher absenteeism as parents have to stay home and care for their kids. All of that doesn’t just affect the businesses in your community today, it also affects whether new businesses will come and set up shop in the years ahead.

The program came into being back in February of 2010 with the goal of eliminating childhood obesity within a generation. In December of that year, the President signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which looked to Let’s Move! for the need to include nutritional standards that would apply to school cafeterias and vending machines.

Worldwide, the First Lady’s anti-obesity crusade has attracted a lot of attention and comment, and opened a dialogue on such puzzling questions as how we can live in a world where so many kids are still starving and so many kids are stuffed. Even more problematic is that often, the obese and the undernourished are one and the same. There is no easy line to draw.

The program has spawned several creative competitions involving large numbers of the general public. One was a poster contest, which Kori Schulman explains:

We asked you to design infographics about the problem of childhood obesity and the ways the nation is working to address it — drawing inspiration from the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity’s report to the President.

The award for best overall infographic was won by Jenn Cash, whose illustration included a timeline of significant events in the childhood obesity epidemic. Observant critic with a sense of humor noticed that one of the events on the timeline was the 1995 launch of the PlayStation. The website SlashDot quotes a commentor known as “theodp”:

… [T]he overall winner calls out Sony’s PlayStation as a major milestone on its timeline of childhood obesity (together with Coke, Pepsi, mall food courts, fructose and high sugar tariffs, TV, McDonald’s, and other fast food). Somewhat ironically, the First Lady’s other anti-childhood obesity efforts include a $60,000 video game contest.

Is this true? As it turns out, yes. As part of the Let’s Move! initiative, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture asked game designers and software developers, both professional and amateur, to create software that would, in engaging and amusing ways, encourage kids to eat better and get more exercise. It was called the Apps for Healthy Kids Competition, and the winner was a game called Trainer, described thusly:

Trainer gives players the responsibility of caring for creatures who all have dietary and fitness needs. Unlike any other title currently on the market, the Player actually trains with the creatures. When one of the creature exercises, so does the Player! Both benefit from this shared activity…

The primary goal of Trainer is to give players the opportunity to discover, seek and share health information. Through experiential learning, Players will quickly gain insight into how nutrition and fitness impacts their daily lives — removing many of the stigmas surrounding diet and exercise. Furthermore, through a customized gameplay experience, Players will be encouraged to exercise on a regular basis — attaining their fitness goals both in-game and in real life!

Readers, please respond if you have any experience with this game. What do you think?

Source: “Remarks by the First Lady at a Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties Announcement,”, 07/18/12
Source: “And the winners are…,”, 07/29/10
Source: “White House Fingers PlayStation As Obesity Culprit,Slashdot, 09/04/10
Source: “Apps for Healthy Kids,” Apps for Healthy Kids


  1. If the goal of the First Lady’s campaign is to reverse childhood obesity, then it should be titled, Let’s NOT drink SUGAR. The science is clear. Please take a minute to click through the nutrition tab on the Let’s Move website. Conspicuously absent is the much needed hardline on decreasing sugar consumption. We at have filed this under the category…THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO HMMMM.

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