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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.


1. Too much government involvement - could lead toward accusations of child abuse and removal of children from the family.
2. What about our potluck dinners?

Obesity is epidemic for various reasons. The medical costs to treat the results of obesity are enormous.Companies produce hundreds of products which are perhaps tasty but have high calories, lots of additives and no nutritional value. People do not seem willing to control their eating habits or those of their children. Maybe they have no idea of what good nutrition is. When I was in school, we had a class called Family Living, and it was taught there. If people cannot or will not control their destructive behavior, be it personal or business, then the government must step in. That, or costs must be passed on to obese people as they are to smokers.
Only under rare circumstances would I support the government stepping in to take children who are obese out of their homes.
It is up to people to discipline themselves, and companies to only produce healthy products or face the consequences.

Evangelicals do not have the courage to condemn the sin of obesity, often the result of overindulgence. It is telling that many of the major offenders are pastors and church leaders. Many of the people who perform on church platforms are embarrassingly hypocritical in condemning all kinds of sins except gluttony. So, of course they will not stand with Michelle Obama who is calling on us to curb our children's appetites and lack of self-control.

I agree that Christians have a tendency to separate the physical and the spiritual. God made us both physical and spiritual - and He calls us to care for both. After all, our bodies are temples for the Holy Spirit. However, this article was about whether or not the government should get involved in the childhood obesity crisis. To that I say, until the government begins regulating the food manufacturers, their involvement will be futile. A person surviving on minimum wage can't make healthy food choices -- it is too expensive. Government subsidizes the corn (high fructose corn syrup, animal feed) and soy industries, who then sell to huge food manufacturers who sell us cheap chemically laden, highly processed, high sugar foods void of all nutrients. The food industry has friends in high places, and can get away with whatever they want in order to make more money. Read a little about the Monsanto Company -- it is enough to give you nightmares. What is the answer? I wish I knew. But giving our kids "tools" to make better choices probably won't do a lot of good if when they get home all that is in their grocery stores is a bunch of junk.

Why in the world is this even an issue with people? No one accused Nancy Reagan of promoting big government when she promoted the "Just Say No" campaign. Are we really so politically divided that we can't accept something positive that someone is trying to do just because it comes from the opposite side of the aisle?

It should not be surprising to find a majority of Evangelicals dubious about the obesity effort because most Evangelicals are Republicans. In this poll, they are reflecting their partisanship rather than their spiritual values.

I lose respect for peoples' willingness or ability to logically examine an issue when they say that providing information about how to curb obesity is actually big government telling people what to do.

Inflammatory AdminJB So Government should be involved with abortions (which do not kill) but not with obesity (which does kill)? Does government still provide subsidies to those nice Christian gentlemen who grow tobacco (which kills) but locks up those pagans who grow pot (which does not kill)? Are conservative Christians capable of rational thought? It would seem that conservative Christians are wary of everything except 'young-earth creationism' (which is not in the Bible or true according to science) and 'pre-trib Rapture' (which is not found in the Bible either). Perhaps this is why the life verse for many conservative Christisns should be I Cor 1:26 which contains the phrase 'Not many of you are wise by human standards...).

There is a reason that some conservatives are a little upset with Michelle Obama's involvement with people's diets. She isn't just out giving speeches about the importance of eating an apple instead of eating a cookie. She is getting to be known as the "food czar", because she is doing more than the other first lady's had ever dreamed of. She is using her position to push legislation. Are you aware that a Childhood nutrition bill cleared Congress thanks to Michelle? The $4.5 billion bill was introduced by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). This would not have been done if not for Michelle. It expands eligibility for school meals programs, establishes nutrition standards for all foods sold in schools and provides a 6-cent increase for each school lunch to help cafeterias serve healthier meals. Whether the bill is good or not is not the question. What upsets some conservatives is her role in the White House. She was not the one elected. She is also pushing Walmart and other stores to remove unhealthy food from their shelves. I'm sorry, but I don't like the first lady dictating what restaurants and food retailers can and cannot do,and what I can and cannot eat. And from the NY Times: "After wrapping her arms around the retail giant Wal-Mart and trying to cajole food makers into producing nutrition labels that are easier to understand, Michelle Obama, the first lady and a healthy-eating advocate, has her sights set on a new target: the nation’s restaurants. A team of advisers to Mrs. Obama has been holding private talks over the past year with the National Restaurant Association, a trade group, in a bid to get restaurants to adopt her goals of smaller portions and children’s meals that include healthy offerings like carrots, apple slices and milk instead of French fries and soda, according to White House and industry officials." We will be paying, of course, for any more label changes, and you'll be paying more for the healthy options. She wants to tell private businesses what they can and cannot serve, and how much they can serve. She wants to tell retailers what they can and cannot sell. What she says and what she does are two different things of course. At the WH Super Bowl party, inside the Executive Mansion, the 100 or so guests ate bratwurst, kielbasa, cheeseburgers, deep-dish pizza and Buffalo wings with sides of German potato salad, twice-baked potatoes and assorted chips and dips. Special ales were flown in from Wisconsin. The radio during Superbowl Week ran government paid ads on eating healthy for the Superbowl, sponsored by you the tax-payer, initiative from Obama/Michelle. What hypocrisy!! Maybe, just maybe, this is what upsets conservatives, who want LESS government intervention in our lives. She is not just saying "'eat an apple". She is acting outrageously. I happen to like our Constitution and our government, and I don't like what is happening with the Obama's in the White House. She is not a co-president. Actually, maybe if we could get her moving on the oil spill, at least one of the Obama's will actually be doing something about it. And no, it isn't capped, and it's spewing millions of gallons of oil every day into the Gulf, and hundreds of toxic chemicals into the air, but that's another story. Obama is doing nothing about that, and the liberals are silent on that. You can put that danger right up there with the Japanese earthquake/tsunami/nuclear problem. The President should be doing something about that, and they should stop worrying about any oreos us peons may eat while the air we breathe is getting more and more dangerous thanks to his inaction on the oil spill.

The number of morbidly obese people in the church is embarrasing sometimes. It clearly shows a lacking in self discipline in one area of life. Which is probably just the tip of the iceberg.

Much was said for generations against drinking and drunkenness, against smoking, against drugs. Nothing however was said against Gluttony. So no surprise now that the church is reflecting the world in this area too.

Stop the Gluttony!! Lose way by fasting and prayer.

Obesity is a problem. Why should we care? Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Is that emphasized in her message? Not to my knowledge. Was that emphasized at North Point Community Church? I don't think so.

So the right wants corporate freedom that causes a lot of these obesity problems. Fast food and unhealthy manufacturing processes. But here they are disapproving a move to help with the obesity these practices have caused. I will agree that bigger government may not be the solution but a whole lot more education is very important.

All truth is God's truth, no matter who it comes through. If we believe in the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, then we should be secure enough in that sovereignty to be gracious and generous in spirit towards anyone speaking the truth about something, whether or not we agree with that person on other matters. Refusing to accept the truth of what Michelle Obama is saying about healthy nutrition simply because she makes no mention of the body being the temple of the Holy Spirit is a poor reflection of the same Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth.

If Mrs. Bush were saying it, the numbers would be different. Evangelicals are owned by the Republicans.

Is there a religion that believes in the literal truths of scripture but either ISN'T completely heartless or IS consistently libertarian on every point (not just social justice ones)?

Evangelicals have hitched themselves so tightly to right-wing politics that it has compromised their ability to support something good when they see it. (it's also damaged their image, credibility and theology, but that's a whole other post)

Is it too much to try to combine a depth of biblical teaching, doctrine and practice with a deep sense of compassion and social responsibility? Apparently it is for many.

The evangelical view shows how silly one can be in their view of the serious social concerns about which we as the "other evangelicals" view issues.

Stop the gluttony, repent of such lifestyle and behaviour!