The leader of a fanatical animal rights group has singled out First Lady Michelle Obama for emphasizing the important role exercise plays in kids maintaining a healthy weight. Neal Barnard, president of the PETA-linked Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), implies that kids wouldn't need to move their bodies if they'd just stop eating meat. We can't help but wonder what a genuinely mainstream medical organization would have to say about that.
The St. Petersburg Times asked Barnard, who is currently promoting a new book and PBS television series, to elaborate on what he calls the "culprit of childhood obesity." He responded by wagging his finger at the First Lady's Let's Move initiative to eliminate childhood obesity:
[N]aming it ‘Let's Move' suggests that the problem is that kids aren't sweating enough, and I think that's a mistake. Researchers have looked at the causes of childhood obesity and the changes in physical activity and diet. And the changes in physical activity, while there for some kids, are not enough to account for the increase in obesity.
The First Lady and her team of medical experts and nutritionists, on the other hand, stress the importance of incorporating exercise into children's "healthy lifestyles" so they can "grow up to a healthy weight." Let's Move contends kids aren't getting as much physical activity as they did before the Internet and video games replaced outdoor play:
Thirty years ago, most people led lives that kept them at a healthy weight. Kids walked to and from school every day, ran around at recess, participated in gym class, and played for hours after school before dinner … Today, children experience a very different lifestyle. Walks to and from school have been replaced by car and bus rides. Gym class and after-school sports have been cut; afternoons are now spent with TV, video games, and the internet.
Despite trends showing kids' inclination towards sedentary behaviors, Barnard prefers to blame animal protein as the primary cause of childhood obesity, and cites it as the sole reason non-vegan kids need to exercise at all:
If you tell a kid you've got to exercise off the calories they just ate in six chicken nuggets, that child has to run 3-1/2 miles. In theory, you can force children to exercise off the calories we are stuffing down their throats, but the issue really is the input side.
Barnard conveniently ignores children's nutritional requirements so he can promote his anti-meat agenda. But kids' growing bodies require a certain number of calories a day just to maintain healthy body weight. And parents should feed their kids a balanced diet.
Mislabeling meat and dairy as "excess" calories that need to be burned off might serve Barnard's political goal of marginalizing protein that isn't tofu-based, but is he willing to sacrifice children's health in the process?