Thankfully, Trump Could Undo Michelle Obama’s War Against Normal Food


The threat Donald Trump poses to President Obama’s legacy was well established from his earliest days on the campaign trail, when the businessman promised that he would abolish several of Obama’s core policies.

But the president is not the only Obama whose achievements President-elect Trump could roll back. The incoming president also could undo the public health and nutrition jihad carried out with the urging of Michelle Obama.

The first lady has spent the past eight years championing anti-obesity initiatives, pushing an aggressive policy and public-outreach agenda that has played a part in changing how millions of Americans, particularly schoolchildren, eat. In a 2010 speech announcing her signature program, Let’s Move!, Obama described her goal as nothing less than “solving the problem of childhood obesity in a generation.”

Experts say her policies have contributed to several positive trends, including the overall obesity rate among young people leveling off in recent years. Children’s diets also have improved measurably, a recent Brown University study found, particularly when it comes to eating more whole grains, seafood, dairy and fruit.

But now that Trump will soon take power – Trump of the deep-fried taco bowl and 20-ounce Porterhouse fame – lobbyists, activists and outgoing administration officials fear that the president-elect, and his and his advisers’ skepticism of government regulation, will uproot the healthy food movement Obama has championed.

At stake is not only her personal legacy, experts say, but efforts to reverse the nation’s obesity epidemic.

“The Obama administration made a valiant effort to make progress,” said Marion Nestle, a prominent food policy activist and academic. “But there isn’t anything [Trump] couldn’t undo, if he wanted.”

Advocates fear that three achievements could be on the chopping block: rules that require chain restaurants to put calorie counts on menus, stricter nutrition standards for school lunches and an update to the nutrition labels that appear on packaged foods.

All three were championed by the first lady and enacted by Democratic majorities in Congress. School lunch reforms also had early bipartisan support, passing unanimously in the Senate.

In the years since, however, both congressional Republicans and industry groups have come to see the regulations as overly strict or wasteful. When Republicans won control of the House in 2010, and the Senate four years later, opposition to the first lady’s nutrition agenda became more vocal.

The most visible piece of Obama’s agenda is school lunch reform, which affects the meals of 31 million children. The First Lady began lobbying for better school nutrition standards shortly after her husband took office, seizing on the fact that the law governing the national school lunch program came up for renewal in 2010. With her urging, the new law — dubbed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act — required that the lunch program revise its nutritional guidelines for the first time in 15 years.

As a result, schools across the U.S. now offer students milk, whole grain-rich foods, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, plus limit the amounts of calories, trans-fats and salt that kids get in cafeterias.

“When we talk about raising a healthier generation, this is what we mean,” Obama said last May. “And it’s happening before our very eyes . . . They’re developing a set of habits and preferences that will set them on a healthy path for the rest of their lives.”

While the measure was popular when it passed, sentiment shifted as the Department of Agriculture began to release concrete requirements. The School Nutrition Association, a powerful industry group which had been an important supporter of the legislation, reversed course over concerns that the new standards were expensive and unpopular with students.

“It’s not up to the government to dictate the personal dietary choices of individuals,” said Daren Bakst, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “We want these decisions made at the local level. That’s the pro-parent position.”

In Congress, detractors like Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., and Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., have introduced legislation and taken other steps to undermine or delay some of the law’s main provisions, including limits on refined grains and sodium. When the child nutrition bill came up for reauthorization in 2015, House Republicans attempted to gut both the nutritional standards and a measure intended to increase program access in low-income schools.

Negotiations fell through earlier this month, which means the issue will be taken up by the next Congress. The new nutritional standards will remain in place until then. While it’s too early to guess at what the next child nutrition bill could look like, Aderholt, one of the staunchest critics of school lunch reform, has said he expects changes. His office declined to specify what those changes would be.

Much of this uncertainty springs from the fact that Trump has never publicly spoken on school lunches or nutrition policy, though plenty of lobbyists and administration officials are scrutinizing the tea leaves behind closed doors. They note that Trump’s agricultural advisory committee includes Aderholt and Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller, who reintroduced deep-fryers to that state’s schools.

The man leading his Department of Agriculture transition team, Joel Leftwich, is a former lobbyist for PepsiCo. Trump just nominated the CEO of Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. to head the Department of Labor.

Trump has said he personally eats fast food several times a week and has extolled the virtues of McDonald’s — though his 2004 book “Think Like a Billionaire” also preached the value of a balanced, minimally processed diet. The Trump transition team did not respond to a request for comment.

The same ambiguity surrounds menu-labeling rules, which require chain establishments that serve prepared food to also display those foods’ calorie counts. The First Lady’s advisers have been credited with shepherding the little-known requirement, which passed as part of the Affordable Care Act and will go into effect next year.

Multiple studies have found that people consume fewer calories when their menus display calorie counts. But some industry groups, particularly those representing grocery stores, theaters and other food-service establishments that aren’t strictly “restaurants,” are unhappy the rules apply to them. Their defenders in government have argued that the requirements are a financial burden.

They could potentially see relief under the Trump administration, given that he and Tom Price, his nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, favor repealing the ACA. Price has also said government should play a smaller role in regulating industry.

That stance could also affect other nutritional regulations under the purview of the Food and Drug Administration, a department of HHS — namely, the new Nutrition Facts labels, which the First Lady debuted, to great fanfare, last summer. Debra Eschmeyer, the executive director of Let’s Move!, described the update as one of Obama’s “monumental achievements.”

The labels emphasize calories and serving size and display “added sugars” for the first time, emphasizing the sweeteners and syrups that manufacturers add to many products during processing. They are unpopular with the sugar industry and aren’t slated to go live until July 2018. Congress could delay them through next year’s budget bill if they’re not already delayed or weakened by the agency.

“We are on high alert for attempts to remove ‘added sugars’ or delay the update to the Nutrition Facts,” said Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Advocates fear any reversal of the First Lady’s nutrition policies could harm the fight against the obesity epidemic. Progress on this front has already been slow: In 2013, 38 percent of American adults were obese, as were 17 percent of children — a figure that has not changed substantially over the past decade.

Certain groups of children have seen progress, however, particularly children under five years old and children under five who participate in nutrition assistance programs. Miriam Nelson, a public health researcher who has advised several administrations on child obesity and nutrition, said those gains could be erased if Trump rolled back programs like healthy school lunches.

“We can only speculate, but I’m very worried,” Nelson said. “The trend down is not real steep. It’s a fragile shift.”

Still, there’s some reason for hope among nutrition experts.

Wootan points out that many of Obama’s reforms have been popular with voters: a 2015 poll by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation found that 86 percent support the stricter school-lunch standards, while a 2015 AP poll found that more than half of Americans support menu calorie labels.

Eschmeyer, of Let’s Move!, said she felt “optimistic” that public sentiment on obesity, as well as momentum in the marketplace, would ensure the First Lady’s reforms remained for the long-term.

“The takeway is that we’ve seen tremendous conversation and cultural shift,” she said. “I’m really excited for the future of food in this space.”

Wootan and other experts say we’ll know more about the fate of Michelle Obama’s legacy in a matter of weeks. Trump’s pick for Secretary of Agriculture will reveal a great deal about where he stands.

But Nestle says she’ll be watching for a smaller, more symbolic indicator: what happens to Obama’s White House garden. The First Lady recently called the garden “a symbol of the hopes that we all hold of growing a healthier nation for our children.”

“His removing that would be equivalent to Reagan removing the solar panels installed under the Carter administration,” Nestle said. “It has enormous symbolic value. And that would be sad.”

(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Caitlin Dewey 



  1. This is another Obama stupidity. My wife who is a teacher said that in her class students simply stopped taking the government lunches which were totally inadequate (2 fish-sticks for growing children?) Instead they opt to bring food from home and all the nosh they can get. The government touts this as a success because less calories are included in the government meals, but their statistics are based on the erroneous assumption that the same people are consuming those meals as before. This happened in all the classes in my wife’s school and the kitchen now makes meals that are paid for by parents.
    Another academia-based brainless big-government tax that hurts the people of this country. Good by and good riddance.

  2. How did the first lady weild so much power legally to force her nutritional opinions on the American taxpayers?

  3. couldn’t read the whole article as it is too long but agree with posters above. The kids would be ecstatic if they schools would once again serve regular rye bread instead of whole wheat. Agreed kids simply brought what they wanted because they do not like the lunches. The article makes it sound as if it was only positive what Michelle Obama did but there were studies done in the last few years that showed that the school lunches were not offering enuf calories and kids were not eating enough in school. I saw an article yesterday saying that babies today are skinnier than they used to be so maybe there will be less childhood obesity. Babies don’t eat more than they need (they were discussing ages 3-5 MONTHS). So now we are starving babies so they shouldn’t be fat?! I think this world places too much importance on looks. There are people who do not over eat and are chunky and those that fress and are skinny. H-shem makes us all different and it is time for the politicians to butt out and stop deciding that they know better.

  4. The key here is that schools SERVE helthier meals. I can tell you that in my yeshiva, and every other yeshiva I have heard of, guys just don’t take food, unless they are dormers. The ones that have access to canteens buy nosh, some people order from restaurants, and some bring food from home. The “healthy” food is so bad that on certain days guys don’t even walk past the dining room because the smell alone is nauseating.

  5. I’m a teacher as well and can see firsthand how children consuming less food and go hungry, telling me they don’t like anything

  6. The key is to make tasty healthy meals that way the food will be eaten. It is stupid to serve unhealthy food. I don’t think the RambAm or for that ,atter the Torah advocates eating for the pleasure of eating. The fact so many are against the idea of eating healthy doesn’t justify it, it only shows how far away people have strayed from true Torah judiusm.
    Even though the Obama adm did a lot of damage ” Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.” eating healthy is an important agenda.

  7. In the USA anyone who is not obese or overweight is a professional athlete, a fashion top model, or – equally sadly than the fat people – an anorexic, or a person having serious health issues. Michelle Obama changed very little of that, but I credit her with, at least, trying, or at the very very least, noticing the problem: as the above comments show, many United Statesians do not.


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