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Michelle Obama exercises with a hula hoop at the White House during a healthy kids fair in October 2009. ((Haraz N. Ghanbari/ Associated Press))

A nationwide campaign to combat childhood obesity was launched Tuesday by U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle.

The president signed an executive order to support the cause, which gets the White House on board with a plan to co-ordinate programs across the U.S.

The Let's Move campaign encourages:

  • More physical activity for children, entertainment and business leaders.
  • Healthier food in schools.
  • More accurate and informative nutrition information and food labels.
  • Screening for obesity in children at medical checkups.

"I have set a goal to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight," Obama said in signing the order.

Michelle Obama will promote the public awareness campaign, urging parents to take charge of their children's diets.

"No matter how much they beg for pizza, fries and candy, ultimately they are not, and should not, be the ones calling the shots at dinnertime," she said.

Changing attitudes

The proposed U.S. federal budget includes $1 billion a year for child nutrition programs, and the campaign includes $400 million designated to bring supermarkets with fresh produce to every neighbourhood within seven years.

The public awareness campaign is designed to change attitudes, but more needs to be done to reduce junk food and pop in schools, label processed foods and other measures, said Clyde Yancy, president of the American Heart Association.

"Anything [Michelle Obama] can do would be helpful because the burden of the problem is just that profound," Yancy said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that 68 per cent of U.S. adults are overweight and half are obese, with a body mass index of 30 or higher.

In January, Statistics Canada reported that among young children, 17 per cent are overweight and nine per cent are obese, based on the body mass index.  

The U.S. Institute of Medicine, which independently advises the government, last year recommended policy changes such as improving public transit to encourage people to park their cars and walk, and changes to school lunch programs to improve health and fitness.

In a statement Tuesday, Disney said it will develop a series of public service announcements featuring Michelle Obama alongside leading Disney Channel stars to support Let's Move.

With files from The Associated Press