President Obama on Tuesday put his strength behind the fight against childhood obesity, ordering federal agencies to join in a 90-day plan to curb a problem that has reached epidemic proportions.
"We think that this has enormous promise in improving the health of our children, in giving support to parents to make the kinds of healthy choices that often times are very difficult in this kind of environment," the president said upon signing the executive order at a White House ceremony.
Nearly one-third of U.S. children are overweight or obese -- a rate that has tripled among adolescents and doubled in younger children over the past 30 years. In addition, one-third of children born in 2000 or later eventually will suffer from diabetes, according to the White House.
Obesity can result in a wide range of health-related problems beyond diabetes, including asthma, heart disease and high blood pressure.
The executive order establishes a task force that will include high-ranking officials from such Cabinet-level agencies as the Agriculture, Education and Interior departments and the Office of Management and Budget.
The highlights of the outreach mission are to ensure access to healthy, affordable foods; increase physical activity in schools and communities; provide healthier food in schools; and provide parents with better information and tools to make better food choices.
Mr. Obama said the Department of Health and Human Service will provide the funding.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the administration has asked Congress for $1 billion for the initiative, which also includes participation from the private sector and not-for-profit groups.
Fighting obesity has been a high priority for first lady Michelle Obama, whom the president recognized and thanked.
"I am so proud of the work that the first lady, along with the Cabinet secretaries behind me, have done in trying to tackle one of the most urgent health issues that we face in this country, and that is the increase of childhood obesity," he said from the Oval Office.
Mrs. Obama stood behind her husband with an arm draped over his chair as he penned his signature, then patted him on the back and said "good job" when he was finished.