According to science — a field of study that her husband professes to hold in the highest regard — Michelle Obama may once again be biting off more than she can chew in her latest nutritional advocacy pitch.
As part of her Let’s Move initiative, the first lady released a press release this morning that reads:
I’ve come to realize that if we were going to take just one step to make ourselves and our families healthier, probably the single best thing we could do is to simply drink more water. That’s it — it’s really that simple.
But according to the experts, it’s really not. Politico reached out to a number of medical authorities, many of whom say that “the health benefits of increased water consumption are murky and there are no widely accepted criteria for how much water individuals should drink each day.”
Dr. Stanley Goldfarb a kidney specialist with the University of Pennsylvania, maintains:
There really isn’t data to support this. I think, unfortunately, frankly, they’re not basing this on really hard science. It’s not a very scientific approach they’ve taken.… To make it a major public health effort, I think I would say it’s bizarre.
One particular claim in the White House spiel that Goldfarb takes exception with is the notion that drinking more water boosts energy:
The idea drinking water increases energy, the word I’ve used to describe it is: quixotic. We’re designed to drink when we’re thirsty.… There’s no need to have more than that.
Dr. George Benjamin, president of the American Public Health Association, also expresses reservations, telling Politico, “There is a lot of controversy about how much water you need to drink as water. I think certainly you should be drinking as much fluid as you need.”
The criticisms are nothing new. Politico notes that in recent years, news outlets ranging from NPR to Reuters to Mother Jones have run stories suggesting that the claim that Americans don’t drink enough water is an urban legend.
While some experts interviewed were less dismissive of the benefits of drinking water — especially when it replaces so-called “empty-calorie” beverages, such as soda pop — one of the biggest bones of contention in the White House campaign is the assertion that water consumption is a weapon against childhood obesity. Let’s Move director and White House chef Sam Kass told reporters in a conference call this morning that obesity was one of the ills that could be reduced through more water consumption. Kass said:
We do have a quarter of kids who drink no water under the age of 19. And over 40 percent of Americans aren’t even drinking half the water we know is recommended for optimum health.
This is not the first time Kass has overstepped the boundaries of his area of expertise. In 2010, he made a video that also starred Elmo, the character from“Sesame Street,” in which Kass made the specious claim that “fruit is an ‘any time’ food. You can eat it any time you want.” But Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician and nutritionist, says that overconsumption of fruit can have a paradoxical effect for those trying to shed pounds:
I frequently see patients who think of fruit as a ‘free food’ and are unknowingly consuming up to 250 extra calories a day, which could prevent them from losing one pound of fat every two weeks!
Overdoing it with fruit also can lead to dental decay, osteoporosis, wasting of muscle tissue, inability to maintain a healthy weight, chronic fatigue, skin problems, thinning hair, weakening nails, and excessive irritability.
It has been posited in this space before that it the first lady needs a hobby or an initiative that will later be regarded as her legacy — much like her predecessor, Laura Bush’s, emphasis on reading — she should choose something that she can wrap her mind around. It is obvious that the science of combatting childhood obesity is not her thing.
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