March 17, 2011
Poll: Evangelicals Wary of Government Involvement on Childhood Obesity
First Lady Michelle Obama continues to campaign for her “Let's Move” initiative, which aims to help parents and caregivers decrease childhood obesity in the United States. Over the last three decades, the level of obesity double among preschool children and tripled for school aged children, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Nearly one in five school-aged children are obese.
Some conservatives, including former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, have criticized Obama’s effort as a big-government solution. However, other Republican leaders, including former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, defended the First Lady's efforts saying that the public should work to decrease childhood obesity rates.
A February 22-March 1 poll suggested that evangelicals were suspicious of government efforts on childhood obesity. The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press asked 1,504 adults, “Should government have a significant role in reducing childhood obesity?” Among evangelicals, 56 percent said that government should not have a significant role. Among non-evangelicals, 35 percent said this.
Evangelicals composed the only religious tradition that had a majority saying government should not play a significant role on this issue. Mainline Protestants were split over the question but leaned toward a stronger government role. A vast majority of Catholics, Black Protestants, and those with no religion said government should have a significant role to play.
Whether this means that a majority of evangelicals would side with Palin over Huckabee on the issue depends on what is meant by a “significant role” for government. Both Huckabee and Obama said that parents are responsible for children, but that government can provide information to help them.
Huckabee interviewed Michelle Obama on his February 21 Fox News show. He asked Obama about criticisms by some that her proposals were going to lead to a nanny-state.
"I’ve spoken to a lot of experts about this issue, and the one thing that they haven’t said is that government telling people what to do is the answer. This is not government intervention," said Obama. "This is not an initiative that is about telling people what to do. It’s giving people the tools to make the decisions that make sense for them."
>After the interview, Huckabee said he angered some conservatives by having the First Lady on his show. Speaking to talk show host Sean Hannity, Huckabee said that he disagrees with the administration on many issues but not the efforts to curb childhood obesity.
“No doubt [President Obama is] way left of you and me. No doubt about that. But, on this issue, I think the first lady is right,” said Huckabee. “And she is not taking a leftist position on it. And the conservatives are going to immediately say, 'Oh, we're against this.' They need to listen and be part of the solution.”
Huckabee is not new to the issue of obesity—personally or politically. As governor of Arkansas, he made national news for losing over 100 pounds and implementing policies designed to improve childhood nutrition. During his time in office Arkansas was the only state to reduce its level of childhood obesity, Huckabee says.
The First Lady has reached out to religious groups to help fight childhood obesity. In November, her office and the Department of Health and Human Services Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships announced “Let’s Move Faith and Communities” that encourages groups to work on improving childhood obesity. The center provides a toolkit for groups on ways to improve nutrition and exercise among children.
Speaking to religious and community leaders, Michelle Obama said, “You all play a vital role in so many aspects of people’s lives: offering counseling on family matters, providing comfort and guidance in times of crisis, being there for folks during some of the most important moments of their lives. All of you know how to empower people. That’s why you all have an important role to play on an issue you know is near and dear to my heart. You all know how serious a problem this is.” In February, she marked the one-year anniversary of the campaign at Andy Stanley’s megachurch.
Editors Note: The Pew Research Center for People and the Press (Pew) provided Christianity Today with a religious breakdown of questions from the poll. However, Christianity Today is responsible for all analysis and interpretation of the results. Pew identifies evangelicals as white, non-Hispanic Protestants who described themselves as "born-again or evangelical." Around one-fifth of Americans are evangelicals by this definition. The margin of error for this subsample is around seven percentage points. The results are descriptive; religious differences could be due to partisanship, ideology, income, or other factors.