As the most visible and influential people in America right now, Michelle and Barack Obama have the unique opportunity to set the tone for our nation and remake our country’s landscape. That includes not just the nation’s wealth, but also Americans’ health. Of course, the Obamas are a successful, professional couple with young children. But they also face some of the same health concerns as other couples their age. How they handle those challenges over the next four—OK, eight—years will have an enormous impact on how everyday Americans tackle these same topics.
Here are just a few of the ways the Obamas can improve their health and yours.
Move It Or Lose It
During the campaign, our new commander in chief was reported to have missed exactly one workout. Pretty impressive for a guy juggling his Senate duties and running for president. And Michelle is no slacker either, as the world could see when she showed off her fabulous figure in that one-shoulder inaugural ball gown. Besides running after two kids, she hits the gym with a trainer three times a week. If they stick to their rigorous workout schedules and publicly tout how important it is to them, who knows, they could get millions of Americans up off their butts and moving.
Kick the Habit
In most ways our president seems like the picture of health, literally; can you say shirtless in Hawaii? But there’s one problem, he’s a smoker. When asked if he’d kicked the habit, his cagey response says it all, “I think that you will not see any violations of these rules in the White House.” Translation: “I will sneak cigarettes in the covered walkway outside of the Oval Office and anywhere else I think Michelle and the press can’t find me.”
Quite simply, he needs to quit. But the fact that our unflappable president admits that he struggles to stay smoke-free makes him more human and can be an inspiration for other people to keep trying to stop for good.
Clean Your Colon
Barack and Michelle, at ages 47 and 45, will both cruise toward the big 5-0 in the White House. They’ll get that first “welcome, you are officially old” letter from AARP along with the equally pleasant news from their doctor that it’s time to schedule a colonoscopy. Good times! Fifty marks the age that doctors recommend your first colorectal exam, or earlier if you have family history of colon cancer. Even though we’ve all seen Katie Couric’s colon up close and personal, Barack could put an entirely different … umm face, on the off-putting procedure. Ditto for prostate exams. Men tend to shuffle these tests to the back burner, but it’s a serious issue and shouldn’t be postponed. Think of what Barack could do for men’s health—especially black men’s health—if he makes a point to promote preventative exams and shares his own journey.
Besides looking after their own health, the Obamas must look out for the health of their daughters. One way to ensure that girls grow up strong, physically fit and confident is through their participation in sports. Promoting, protecting and improving upon the initiatives of Title IX could be especially meaningful in this administration. Prior to its enactment in 1972, girls’ school activities, specifically sports, got virtually no funding, while millions of dollars were poured into men’s and boys’ athletic programs. For the last 25 years, the amendment has worked to level the playing field. But with the fiscal crisis, school budgets are shrinking and extracurricular activities like girls’ sports are first on the chopping block … and we wonder why childhood obesity is at epidemic proportions? Hopefully Barack will continue to support legislation to continue funding, so his girls, and ours, can continue to thrive.
Turn the White House Green
Americans get few glimpses into the White House kitchen, but just think of all the habits the first family could promote from the kitchen of their new home. For starters, they could reduce their use of prepared, processed and pre-packaged food. Food packaging creates 30 million tons of waste annually, so cutting back means less in the landfill and overall better food choices. And some insight into the veggie-eating habits of the Obamas would help, too. We know the new president likes half-smokes from Ben’s Chili Bowl and his mother-in-law’s sweet potato pie, but how much does he eat veggie-centered meals? Stocking the White house kitchen with organic food could help, too. Even though in these tough economic times many Americans cannot shop organic, nudging people toward food full of natural nutrients minus the chemical pollutants would be an enormous boost to our national health. And the White House chefs could set an example by buying locally. In addition to supporting a local farmer, it means feeding the first family with the freshest food while minimizing the environmental impact by saving on transportation and refrigeration costs.
Let’s hope the Obamas are as open about their health choices as they have been about so many other things. We could all be better off for it.
Alicia Villarosa is a regular contributor to The Root.