Pointing Fingers Over Obesity

First Lady Michelle Obama gave a speech to the restaurant industry last week with a pointed message: Restaurant dishes are to blame for people choosing not to eat healthy food. No, really:

Even if we give parents all the information they need and improve school meals and build brand new supermarkets on every corner, none of that matters if when families step into a restaurant, they can't make a healthy choice.

In other words, menus are the ultimate barrier between our overweight society and a leaner populace.

True? Let’s just say this logic has more holes than a donut shop.

First off, restaurants already do offer healthy choices for families to make. Even fast-food burger joints are offering salads. Kids’ meals in many places can come with juice and apple slices. The choices are already there—but as The Economist points out, "Making healthy food is easy. Making people eat it is not."

Focusing on restaurant dishes is also missing the forest for the trees. Obesity is a matter of balancing calories “in” (from food and drink) with calories “out” (from activity). And fast-food documentaries notwithstanding, few people eat every meal in a restaurant. Dining out is just one subset of one half of that equation—hardly all-encompassing. That’s one reason that a 2008 study out of Northwestern University and UC-Berkeley determined that there is “no evidence of a causal link between restaurants and obesity.”

The First Lady’s focus should be elsewhere. Regarding the latter half of the obesity equation, researchers recently reported that on any given day only 5 percent of Americans get vigorous exercise. Exercise is important for the health of all, and in kids activity can help boost smarts. As a number of experts have concluded, being physically fit has more impact on health than carrying a few extra pounds.

The First Lady doesn’t seem to see the bigger picture in her speech. But her stick-thin, basketball-playing husband, who has been spotted noshing on everything from greasy hamburgers to ice cream to buffalo wings, appears to understand the key to a healthy life: eating in moderation and staying active.

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