Friday marks the opening of the London 2012 Olympics and a big moment for a U.S. health initiative. First lady Michelle Obama will lead a delegation into the Olympics Opening Ceremonies along with former American Olympians including women’s soccer’s Brandi Chastain, women’s gymnast Dominique Dawes, men’s basketball’s Grant Hill and women’s swimmer Summer Sanders.
Additionally, Obama will also host an event for over 1,000 U.S. and British children Friday afternoon in London to champion “Let’s Move,” an anti-obesity initiative she announced in 2010 to address a worsening epidemic: Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in the U.S. have tripled.
This raises an interesting public health question before the games begin: Can “Let’s Move” truly make a difference in London?
Her audience will certainly be big enough. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games attracted the largest global television audience ever with 4.7 billion viewers, an astounding 70 percent of the world’s population. And in a USA Today op-ed piece, Obama encouraged “simple changes at home to help our families be healthier” during the games, including drinking water instead of sugary drinks and doing jumping jacks during commercial breaks.
“Think of it as your small part in bringing the Olympic spirit home,” Obama said.
However, Olympics advertisements may not support Obama’s anti-obesity fight. The London Games’ website lists its two lead worldwide food and beverage sponsors which offer products filled with refined sugar, genetically modified chemicals and unhealthy fats linked to childhood obesity.
The London Assembly attempted to cure its nation’s problem — 60.8 percent of British adults are overweight — by passing a June motion that “introduces criteria for the selection of worldwide sponsors for future Games that exclude food and drinks companies strongly associated with high-calorie brands and products linked to childhood obesity.”
Obama has introduced several Olympics-specific projects. The U.S. Olympic Committee, U.S. Paralympics and initiative contributors are offering 1.7 million young people with the chance to participate in community-based Olympic and Paralympic sports.
She has also deemed Saturday “Olympic Fun Day Meetup,” which encourages sporting interactions through online social network meetup.com on the first day of competition in London. Interestingly, the event coincides with the world’s largest McDonald’s restaurant opening at the Olympic Park in London.
Nevertheless, Obama has stated that Olympics coverage can bring positive visibility to childhood obesity.
“I can’t wait to see Team USA in action and to cheer on our athletes,” she said. “And I can’t wait to see what all of us can do together to inspire a generation to lead healthier, more active lives.”