Let's Move! How Fast Is It Moving Forward?

From menu changes to bike-friendly cities, The Root measures the outcomes of Michelle Obama's campaign.

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Getting Healthier Fare at Red Lobster and Beyond

Another corner of the food sector to heed the first lady's call is the world of chain restaurants, which are changing how they approach their youngest customers. Mrs. Obama met with members of the National Restaurant Association in 2010, pleading with them to provide healthier options. Since last July, 68 restaurant companies -- including Burger King, McDonald's, Chili's, Friendly's, Chevys, Outback Steakhouse and IHOP -- have started offering healthier kids' options.

Last fall, Darden restaurants -- parent company of the Olive Garden, Red Lobster, Bahama Breeze, LongHorn Steakhouse, the Capital Grille and Seasons 52 chains -- also committed to doing better nutritionwise. Across its entire restaurant line, the company made a fruit or vegetable the default side dish, and 1 percent milk the default beverage (french fries, soda and other drinks by request only) for all children's meals. Darden also pledged to reduce the calories and sodium in its entire menu by 10 percent over five years, and by 20 percent over a 10-year period.

The promise to adjust its menus at an unspecified date in five and 10 years, however, seems like an awfully long lead time. Meyer suggests that restaurants are trying to balance pressure to change with holding on to the high-calorie fare that's most popular. "I think the food industry's been trying for a while to respond to the advocates who say that this needs to happen," said Meyer, "and yet still keep their profits high."

Putting Food Facts Up Front

Last year the Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute, which represent about 70 percent of food and beverage products -- launched a new front-of-package nutrition-labeling system. The change, which lists the basics of calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugars per serving, hit the marketplace in late 2011 and will continue to grow through 2012.

Yet while the GMI and FMI insist that they acted in response to the Let's Move! campaign's call to help consumers make healthier choices, the White House distanced itself from the move. In a statement, the Obama administration vaguely echoed the concerns of critics who say that the label's context-free numbers are still confusing, and who suspect that the food industry is trying to bypass the Food and Drug Administration's ongoing work to develop consumer-friendly guidelines for food and beverage labels:

"We regard their commitment to dedicate space, for the first time, to an industry-wide front-of-pack label as a significant first step and look forward to future improvement," said the diplomatic but terse White House statement. "The FDA plans to monitor this initiative closely and will work with experts in the field to evaluate whether the new label is meeting the needs of American consumers and pursue improvements as needed."

Coming to a City Near You?

Environmental factors, such as a lack of parks or other safe recreational facilities where kids can be active, can contribute to childhood obesity. That's why Let's Move! is also working with mayors and local leaders. Nearly 500 communities across America have signed up for the Let's Move Cities and Towns program -- a challenge to mayors and elected officials to adopt long-term, sustainable efforts to fight childhood obesity at the community level.