Food & Nutrition

4 Ways Barack Obama Can Change the Way Our Country Eats

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By Julie Upton, RD

I was so upset last year to read reports that to some people, Barack Obama was considered “too skinny to be President.” While he does seem to be the fittest and slimmest of any modern-day U.S. presidents, he is certainly not underweight at all.

Barack Obama is 6’2″ and is reported to weigh about 190 pounds. That equals a body mass index of 24.4, which puts him in the ideal body-composition range—and in even better shape than his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, who clocks in at 5’11” and 194 pounds, with a BMI of 27.

Calculate your BMI and healthiest weight here.

Compared to most candidates—who hit the campaign trail and gain weight (Bill Clinton gained a reported 30 pounds when he was stumping in the ’90s)—Obama actually lost a few pounds. And yes, there were greasy diners and burger joints along the trail, but Obama was also seen on many occasions hitting farmer’s markets for local produce to nosh on during the day. Unfortunately, it seems that many oversize Americans considered his weight to be a weakness instead of a strength.

Instead of distancing ourselves from our fit commander in chief, why not look to him and his family as an inspiration? I’m hopeful that in the next four years, our country’s waistline can benefit from our new leader—either from his policies or by his example. And how might that happen? Here are four ways the new president might improve the way you eat.

Next: Going organic

1. He’s expected to support local and organic farmers

Both President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have expressed their desire to support legislation in favor of local and organic agriculture. Obama frequently mentions his appreciation of reform-minded food writer Michael Pollan, reports the New York Times, and wife Michelle has said she tries to buy organic when she can.

2. Food prices may go down…or up

It’s fitting that the president who is taking office at a time when the use of food stamps is at a record high in this country actually grew up in a family that, at one time, used food stamps themselves. Obesity is also at a record high in America, and Obama has made it clear that he understands the connection. His administration has pledged to put nutrition at the forefront of all food-assistance programs, and to make sure that people are getting not just more calories, but healthy ones at that.

Whether or not these policies make healthy food more affordable, I do expect to see unhealthy food prices going in the opposite direction.  More cities and states may start to follow New York’s proposed legislation for instituting “obesity taxes” on junk food, such as soda and candy. And with cash-strapped local governments and an administration that is expected to be less sympathetic to food corporations, the Fed will most likely let these municipalities implement make their own decisions.

Next page: Food safety should improve

3. Food safety should improve

One of the biggest problems with the safety of our nation’s food is that it is regulated by two different divisions: The Agriculture Department inspects meat and poultry, while the Food and Drug Administration is responsible for the rest. Obama has vowed to cut bureaucratic programs and policies that have outlived their usefulness, and many public-interest groups see this as hope for the creation of a single food-safety agency.

Though that likely won’t happen overnight, we should see some improvements within the existing system at the very least. Working with the Obama administration, a Democratic-led Congress will likely be able to pass legislation that boosts the FDA’s oversight and pays for more food inspections, especially after the numerous and dangerous food scares of the last four years.

Next page: School nutrition will be in the spotlight

4. School nutrition will be in the spotlight

With two young children in the White House, President Obama is expected to support legislation designed to improve the nutritional standards of foods provided through school breakfast and lunch programs. The current front runner for the position of Surgeon General, Sanjay Gupta, MD, is also known for his commitment to fighting the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic through his work with CNN’s Fit Nation program. It’s believed that if Dr. Gupta gets the job, he will make fitness and nutrition a big part of his public policy work.

I know that I may be being a little too optimistic. With two wars waging overseas, Wall Street on the brink of collapse, and unemployment skyrocketing, it’s clear that food and nutrition policy will take the backseat to the more pressing issues in the short term. Some food experts and bloggers, in fact, are already expressing disappointment with some of Obama’s food-related decisions so far.

But I think it’s just something that the most watched man in the world is now one of the fittest presidents of modern times: He’s talked openly about his struggle to quit smoking, plays basketball with his personal assistant every morning, and is reportedly a big fan of pistachios, protein bars, tea, broccoli, spinach, and shrimp. I hope that over the next four years, we’ll see a lot more of those healthy decisions, both in his personal life and in his policies.

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