Michelle Obama: Congressional legislation threatens child health

First Lady Michelle Obama in Washington, DC on 30 April, 2014. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption First Lady Michelle Obama worries about white potatoes and school lunch nutrition changes

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First Lady Michelle Obama took to the opinion pages of the New York Times on Thursday to sharply criticise congressional legislation that she says will undermine her efforts to combat childhood obesity.

"When we make decisions about our kids' health, we rely on doctors and experts who can give us accurate information based on sound science," she writes. "Our leaders in Washington should do the same."

For most of her husband's time in the White House, Ms Obama has appeared content to stay above the political fray. Instead, she has focused on her Let's Move! programme to improve children's fitness and nutrition.

In her article, she says her efforts have been showing "glimmers of progress":

Tens of millions of kids are getting better nutrition in school; families are thinking more carefully about food they eat, cook and buy; companies are rushing to create healthier products to meet the growing demand; and the obesity rate is finally beginning to fall from its peak among our youngest children.

She writes that Congress is threatening this progress with a bill that would include white potatoes on a list of food that can be purchased in the Women, Infants and Children programme - which provides vouchers to low-income women and their young children.

"The problem is that many women and children already consume enough potatoes and not enough of the nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables they need," she writes.

Ms Obama also targets Republican congressional efforts to allow some schools to opt out from school lunch nutrition standards passed in 2010. The waivers are temporary, proponents say, and help relieve a financial burden on poorer school districts.

Such a move, Ms Obama counters, will lower the amount of fruit, vegetables and other healthy food offered in public school, resulting in greater childhood obesity and long-term health costs.

"Our children deserve so much better than this," Ms Obama writes. "Even with the progress we have made, one in three children in this country is still overweight or obese. One in three is expected to develop diabetes in his or her lifetime."

United Kingdom

A Republican-UKIP alliance? - Republicans in the US need to view the United Kingdom Independence Party's strong showing in last week's European Parliament elections as a great opportunity, writes the New York Post's Seth Lipsky.

If the UK is indeed turning away from the European Union, he writes, Republicans could find a willing partner on the international stage in UKIP and the British.

UKIP leader Nigel Farange "is desperately in need of allies," he writes. "All the dark forces of the continent are trying to either tempt or outflank him."

Former President Ronald Reagan would take advantage of just such an opportunity, he says. The Republican Party today could make the same sort of alliance with Mr Farange that Reagan had with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s, he concludes.


A European risk-insurance lifeline - Billionaire hedge-fund operator and international philanthropist/activist George Soros writes that Europe can help itself by helping Ukraine.

Russian attempts to destabilise Ukraine present a threat to Europe, and the EU can define a new sense of purpose by responding to the challenge.

The EU must come up with creative ways to help Ukraine, however, such as by offering political risk insurance for private investment in the nation.

"Businesses would flock to a newly open and promising market if they were fully compensated for losses caused by political events beyond their control," he writes for Project Syndicate.

It's the sort of plan, he says, that could even work within the EU, starting a new growth policy that would give the entire continent a boost


The case against racial quotas - Last week the Brazilian National Congress approved a law requiring that 20% of all civil service jobs go to those of African ancestry. While racism in Brazil is a problem, write the editors of Folha de Sao Paulo, such a remedy is impractical and could have "negative consequences for the country in the long run".

Job candidates would have to self-identify as having a qualifying racial background, which would then be checked by a "racial tribunal".

"In a country as multiracial and interracial as Brazil, a search for ethnic definitions creates more problems than it could ever hope to resolve," they write (translated by WorldCrunch).

"While there are good reasons to compensate disadvantages related to social condition," they say, "it does not make sense to deprive poor white citizens from any proposed benefits."

Brazil should be a meritocracy, they conclude, and the government's goal should be to find and hire the best qualified candidates, regardless of race.

South Korea

The presumption of innocence and the ferry disaster - Although the public seems to have already decided that the owner of the Sewol ferry and his son should receive the death penalty, writes the Lee Chang-sup in the Korea Times, the two should be given a fair hearing during trial.

Holding businessman Yoo Byeung-eun and his son, Dae-gyun, responsible for the 292 deaths in the accident will prove a challenge for prosecutors, Lee writes, because the ferry operation is run through intermediaries. This has led to calls for government action to bypass the courts and confiscate the Yoo family's wealth to pay damages to the relatives of the deceased.

This is wrong, Chang writes. "The public must remember that Korea is a law-abiding society that provides everyone, including people like Yoo, with a fair chance to defend himself or herself in court."

Blaming Yoo and his son, he says, will not fully address the causes of the tragedy and those responsible. "As a law-abiding society, we should recognise that defendants are innocent until proven guilty," he concludes.

BBC Monitoring's quotes of the day

US President Barack Obama yesterday used the graduation ceremony at the US military academy West Point to make a major foreign policy speech. The following quotes are a sample of world media reaction.

"President Obama … did not mention 'our' Middle East, not as a foreign policy destination and not as an American interest... He did not express commitment to ally Israel and nor also the inspiration to grant the Palestinians a state of their own... To leave Israel and the Palestinians to deal with themselves is a recipe for violence, isolation and world apathy." - Alon Pinkas in Israel's Yediot Aharonot.

"Yesterday's speech confirms that US President Barack Obama is looking at the world with two wide eyes and a realistic mind more than ever before." - Abd-al-Rahman al-Rashid in Saudi-owned Al-Sharq al-Awsat.

"US President Barack Obama's announcement in which he said that America has relinquished its policy of direct military action is positive. However, America's interference in the internal affairs of other countries and America's destabilisation of other countries by taking their sovereign decision away from them and by supporting terrorists, mercenaries, and rebels' attacks against them are as dangerous, destructive and obliterating as direct military interventions." - Editorial in Oman's Al-Watan.

"The major theme of Obama's address was that America continues to be 'the one indispensable nation'... This unabashed portrait of American exceptionalism is sure to rankle in China, which has long denounced US hegemony." - Shannon Tiezzi in the Japanese magazine the Diplomat.

"Obama's commencement address was in fact a foreign policy speech. It was the address of a defensive leader of a nation still reduced and scarred by the folly of its war in Iraq. But it was not, as some have said, a foreign policy 'reset'." - Nick O'Malley in Australia's the Age.

"This is a commander-in-chief who wishes to cancel out the image of dithering (and the charges of failure) that his White House has been dragging along behind it for too long." - Alberto Flores in Italy's La Repubblica.

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