Top 10 Food Policymakers: Michelle Obama #1

First Lady Michelle Obama has claimed her place at the top of our list of the top U.S. food and nutrition policymakers with last week’s carefully orchestrated events to celebrate the fourth anniversary of her signature Let’s Move initiative.

Obama announced the first major revision to Nutrition Facts labeling in 20 years. With Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, she also announced a plan to ban junk food marketing in schools. She cheered for encouraging reports of obesity trends. And she celebrated four years of rallying businesses and health advocates to promote healthier nutrition and physical activity for our children. That’s quite a week for a part-time policymaker and full-time mom.

The remaining names on our top 10 list — admittedly a subjective compilation — have worked to play a helpful role in shaping food and nutrition policy. The National Food Policy Scorecard from Food Policy Action deserves credit for providing a resource that helped build this list.

  1. First Lady Michelle Obama. The engine that powers Let’s Move.
  2. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Under Vilsack, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has implemented landmark policies to improve the healthfulness of school lunches, to eliminate junk food from schools, and to support the Let’s Move initiative at every turn.
  3. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Representing Alaska, Murkowski has earned high marks in food policy  through her strong stance on labeling genetically engineered salmon. Murkowski is also co-sponsor of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act.
  4. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY). The use of antibiotics in food production is a signature issue for Representative Slaughter.
  5. Representative Peter DeFazio (D-OR). Scoring high on food policy issues, DeFazio has been particularly visible in his commitment to genetically modified food labeling.
  6. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA). Representing California’s formidable agriculture industry, Boxer has earned respect for her commitment to food safety and nutrition.
  7. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Flake has worked for farm subsidy reform in both the House and the Senate, earning respect for his persistence with this issue.
  8. Representative Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). Championing diverse food safety and nutrition issues, Gillibrand is well known for her efforts to eliminate trans fats and junk food in schools, and to restore cuts to food assistance.
  9. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE). Co-sponsor of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act, Carper is an advocate for healthy nutrition and farm to school programs.
  10. Representative Ron Kind (D-WI). With a perfect record on food policy issues scored by Food Policy Action, Kind is an original co-sponsor of the Treat and Reduce Obesity Act and a respected advocate for nutrition and agriculture.

Food and nutrition policy is a messy business. Nutrition scientists regularly fight about the evidence base for making good policy. So it’s all the more remarkable that Obama waded into this mess and maintained a pretty positive image. Said Scott Faber of Food Policy Action:

No one American has done more to change our diets than the first lady. Dogged, persistent, and unyielding are adjectives you could use to describe what Mrs. Obama has brought to food policy.

Obama has worked carefully behind the scenes on childhood nutrition policy for five years now. She maintained a low profile with her policy efforts for much of that time, avoiding intense scrutiny. But by now, her impact is unmistakable.

Click here to read more in Politico and here to read more in Takepart.

Michelle Obama Unveils New Food Labels, photograph by Amanda Lucidon / the White House

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