Her ‘Let's Move!' campaign looks at physical exercise and making the food in schools more nutritious.

Declaring the beginning of the “next phase” of a programme to combat childhood obesity, the first lady, Michelle Obama, called on Congress on September 8 to pass legislation that would make many of the programme's initiatives possible.

In a speech at an elementary school at Slidell, Louisiana, Ms Obama ticked off the main points of her “Let's Move!” campaign: encouraging children to exercise, providing more free and reduced-price school meals and making the food in schools more nutritious. Explicitly tying school nutrition to academic performance, she pledged to expand the programme on all these points.

But Ms Obama, who has typically not waded into congressional debates, emphasised that achieving much of this was dependent on federal lawmakers.

“It's important to be clear,” she said, “that we can't do any of this unless we pass the Child Nutrition legislation that's before Congress right now.”

Under the act, food sold in schools would have to meet new nutrition guidelines, but schools would get an increased amount of federal reimbursement money for meals. It would also expand the number of poorer students who are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals.

Op-ed article

In early August, on the eve of the act's passage in the Senate, Ms Obama wrote an op-ed article in The Washington Post encouraging lawmakers to vote yes, which they did, unanimously. The bill is now expected to be on the agenda this month in the House of Representatives, where lawmakers have been working on a version that would add new elements, and more financing, to the $4.5 billion version that passed in the Senate.

“Congress is very close to getting this done but still there are a number of barriers,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, a group that provided input to the White House in the creation of a plan to address childhood obesity. “This would be a historic change to the programmes,” Wootan said. “I'm agonising daily about it.”

Ms Obama delivered her speech at an elementary school here that is one of 25 in the district — out of only 59 in the country — that have received $2,000 cash awards from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for promoting healthy eating and physical activity. It also sits just over the state line from Mississippi, which has the highest rate of childhood obesity in the country.

Shortly after she unveiled “Let's Move!” in February, Ms Obama travelled to Mississippi to appear with Gov. Haley Barbour. During a breakfast with reporters in Washington on Wednesday, Barbour said the first lady had been “enormously well received” in his state. (Sheryl Gay Stolberg contributed reporting from Washington.) — © New York Times News Service

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