April 29, 2011 -- In a lively video released Wednesday, Beyonce, clad in short shorts, green knee socks and signature stilettos, leads a cafeteria full of kids in a dance routine, encouraging them to move their bodies. Beyonce created the video to promote First Lady Michelle Obama's "Let's Move!" campaign, which seeks to curb childhood obesity.
The Grammy award winning singer joins the ranks of other high profile celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres, Scarlett Johansson and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who have all volunteered their fame to promote a healthy lifestyle.
"Beyonce clearly recognizes that schools play a pivotal role in obesity prevention, including healthy school meals, and opportunities for an hour or more a day of moderate to vigorous physical activity," said Dr. George R. Flores, senior program manager of the California Endowment.
In the music video, Beyonce bounds into a busy cafeteria singing a remix of her song "Get me Bodied," with words encouraging kids to "move your body."
"A little sweat ain't never hurt nobody," Beyonce sings with some everyday students turned fierce dancers, behind her.
The First Lady launched the 'Let's Move!' campaign last year. The movement gives facts, tips and advice on how families and schools can create healthier meals and incorporate more physical activity into their daily lives.
"Celebrity campaigns primarily increase awareness," said Dr. Jennifer Helmcamp, a pediatrician and obesity expert at Scott & White Hospital in Austin, Tex. "One of the great things about Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move!' initiative is that not only is there a focus on awareness of the problem, but there is also a focus on what behavior changes can be done to improve the problem."
"Michelle Obama has modeled behaviors such as planting gardens, exercising and talks about what she does at home to keep her kids healthy," Helmcamp continued. "Adding someone like Beyonce to the campaign is great because she is a very visible influence on older children and teens."
Not all doctors were quick to lend their full support to the approach. Dr. David L. Katz, co-founder of the Yale Prevention Research Center, said that there can be a danger in celebrities, instead of health professionals, advocating for such campaigns.
"Ideally, the celebrities will leave the expertise to the experts, and simply lend the support of their celebrity, cache, and imprimatur," said Katz. "When they co-opt the message, and take it in unintended directions, it can [create] unintended, and undesirable, effects."
But Katz added that, assuming Beyonce is lending support to credible efforts, "her involvement is helpful and most welcome and I commend her for it."
Still, Dr. Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, founder and executive director of the Oliver-Pyatt eating disorder centers, said that "the road to hell can be paved with good intentions," and campaigns like this one can actually spark a weight bias in kids and adults.
"We are labeling people as overweight and obese and causing shame and driving them to diet," said Oliver-Pyatt. "We want to promote overall health versus a concentration on weight."
"We only want to do intervention on modifiable behavior and weight is not a modifiable behavior," she continued.
Obesity: A 'Most Important Issue'
Dr. Mitchell Roslin, a bariatric surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, questioned how influential a music video can be on a child's overall health.
"The prevalence of severe obesity in inner city schools, especially in females, is astronomical," said Roslin. "Thus, while I am glad they are taking an interest, I am pessimistic about how effective it will be."
According to the Let's Move! campaign, nearly one in three American children are overweight or obese. Among African American and Hispanic communities, those numbers are even higher: about 40 percent. Obesity puts people of all ages at high risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma.
Obesity causes much more than physical health problems, added Keith Ayoob, associate clinical professor of medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. He said the effects can act as a vortex of weight gain.
"Kids get teased mercilessly about their weight," said Ayoob. "That just makes them want to be active even less than they already are. These kids can often become depressed, suffer from low self esteem and just dislike who they are because of their weight…It's a vicious cycle."
Doctors said that the epidemic has gotten so bad among adults and children that anti-obesity efforts face an uphill climb, even with the massive national education campaigns.
"This is going to be a far more difficult battle than smoking or teen pregnancy," said Roslin. "Smoking, you can go cold turkey; teen pregnancy can be reduced with birth control and abortion."
With obesity, you have to eat," continued Roslin. "You are surrounded by easily available, well-packaged energy rich foods that feel good to eat."
It's a Family Affair
Most experts said obesity is not an isolated issue. Everyone in a family must be believe in living a healthier life, and Helmcamp said that parents are vital in this process because "research shows that children watch and do what their parents do."
"The old adage, 'do as I say and not as I do' doesn't work well with healthy behaviors," said Helmcamp. "If a child watches parents eat unhealthy foods, large portion sizes and remain sedentary, then the child is more likely to take on these behaviors."
And Katz whole-heartedly agreed by saying that parents and kids will be more likely to lose weight together than alone.
"No one thing will fix this problem because no one thing caused it," said Katz. "We need an aggregation of health-promotion programming in diverse settings—schools, worksites, supermarkets, churches—if we are to turn this tide.
"We'll get there, but it won't be quick, and it won't be easy," he said.