Post-Election Bully Culture Could Undo Michelle Obama's Work

A new study draws a link between bullying and childhood obesity.

by Joanne Spataro
Nov 22 2016, 1:00pm

Photo: Michael Nigro / Sipa USA via AP

First Lady Michelle Obama has encouraged kids to get up and move—and even turned me on to new vegetables when I was in a broccoli and spinach rut. We've watched her work for eight years to promote children's health, starting with her White House Kitchen Garden on the South Lawn in 2009, and then, in 2010, her Let's Move Campaign to fight rising childhood obesity—with the support of her husband, the Department of Education, the USDA and the US Department of Health and Human Services. Her work behind the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act included school lunch reforms, safer food labeling regulations and phasing out trans fats.

But her progress on behalf of kids faces new roadblocks. Sure, the president-elect is a fast food fiend whose policies are sure to back-burner or toss out all the careful messaging FLOTUS created over the past eight years. But a new study underscores a new possibility: the increase of incidents of bullying around the country since the election risks increasing obesity rates among kids and teens.

The findings, published in the November/December issue of Psychosomatic Medicine, tested the link between childhood bullying and being overweight at age 18. Researchers concluded that childhood bullying was a "severe stressor" and associated with being overweight later in life. It can lead kids to self-medicate with food, and put them at risk of other eating issues like bulimia and binge eating, which can ultimately lead to obesity.

This is a growing concern, since hateful incidents post-election have been on the rise. The Southern Poverty Law Center counted over 300 hate-related incidents in the week following the election against minorities, women and children (don't worry though, because Trump's sternly told all the bullies to "stop it"). NPR reported Michigan middle school students chanting "build a wall" at Latino classmates and a Los Angeles student was allegedly told by classmates that she would be deported. Vandals even painted swastikas on a playground at Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn.

Taken together, and adding the irony of future First Lady Melania Trump's pledge to battle cyberbullying, FLOTUS's work on childhood well-being is in danger. Real-life bullying can have serious consequences on children's eating habits, as the obesity/bullying study (which focused on IRL bullying) suggests.

Trump and his administration may try to undo Obama's progress, but there's one thing they won't be able to take away: her vegetable garden on the South Lawn. This past Wednesday afternoon, Obama revealed how she has added cement, stone and steel to the garden—walls I'd be proud to help build.

Obama's garden will be a symbolic reminder to the Trump administration and health advocates to demand quality food and safety regulations in her place, and to let young lives thrive in peace, even if they are new tomato plants and rutabagas.