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Raising Healthy, Active Kids

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks about how ending the sedentary lifestyle of today's kids will help them become more healthy.

Today, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit about the importance of helping our children lead healthier lives by encouraging them to become more active.

The First Lady said that while idea behind the Let’s Move campaign to end childhood obesity has taken off, particularly in terms of making sure kids have access to healthy food, there is still much progress to be made:

Since we launched “Let’s Move,” folks from every sector of society have been stepping up to help our kids lead healthier lives.

 Major food manufacturers are cutting sugar, salt and fat from their products.  Restaurants are revamping kids’ menus and loading them with healthier, fresher options.  Companies like Walgreens, SuperValu, Walmart, Calhoun’s Grocery are committing to build new stores and to sell fresh food in underserved communities all across this country.

Congress passed historic legislation to provide more nutritious school meals to millions of American children.  Our schools are growing gardens all over the place.  Cities and towns are opening farmers markets.  Congregations are holding summer nutrition programs for their kids.  Parents are reading those food labels, and they’re rethinking the meals and the snacks that they serve their kids.

 So while we still have a long way to go, we have seen so much good progress.  We’ve begun to have an impact on how, and what, our kids are eating every single day.  And that is so important.  It’s so important.

 But it’s not enough.  There is still more to do.  Because we all know that the problem isn’t just what’s happening at meal time or at snack time.  It’s also about how our kids are spending the rest of their time each and every day. It’s about how active our kids are.

The First Lady explained that today’s children are the most sedentary generation in the history of our country. They spend an average of 7.5 hours a day watching TV and using computers, cell phones, or video games. Only one-quarter of them play outside every day, compared to three-quarters just one generation ago. It wasn’t always like this, she said:

Many of you probably grew up just like I did.  Back then … remember how we would walk to school every day?  You would get to school and then you’d run around the playground before the bell rang.  You’d get to school early just to run around before the bell rang.

Then just a couple of hours later, we were back outside for recess -- more running around.  And then after lunch, we had another recess, and then all of us, we all had regular P.E. classes.  And then once you got out of school, if you didn’t have homework, we spent hours riding bikes, jumping rope, playing ball, playing tag.  And you didn’t come home until dinner was ready.  And if your mother was anything like mine, she’d send you right back out.

Back then, kids were constantly in motion.  We rarely went more than a few hours without engaging in some kind of heart-pounding, sweat-inducing, active play. And that’s an important word:  play. Back then, play meant physical activity.  Sitting around watching TV didn’t count as playing.

She said that a number of factors have led to this change. Urban sprawl means kids are less likely to walk to school. Budget cuts mean fewer P.E. classes and school sports. Neighborhoods have fewer parks and sidewalks. The Internet is available 24/7, meaning there’s always an opportunity to stay inside be entertained by something on a screen.

Unfortunately, this sedentary lifestyle has real consequences, especially for children. Their growing bodies need physical activity for building healthy bones and muscles, maintaining healthy hearts and lungs, and controlling anxiety and stress. Unhealthy kids require costly medical treatment for preventable conditions. Overweight and obese students are likely to miss more than two weeks of school each year, meaning their parents lose days at work and businesses lose out on productivity.

The First Lady said that changing the way our children play and helping them become more active again will require a commitment from everyone.

So today, I want to call on all of you, and folks all across the country, to just step back and ask yourselves, “What more can I do to help our kids lead more active and healthy lives?”  I want you to ask yourselves what you can do to invest, or to innovate, or to inspire our kids to get out there and play again.

 And when I say invest, I don’t just mean money.  I also mean time, and energy, and passion.  I’m talking about schools that have started running clubs and fitness competitions; schools that are working physical activity into classes ranging from music to math.  I’m talking about communities keeping the high school gym open on weekends or organizing volunteers to refurbish parks and playgrounds. 

I’m talking about faith leaders who are starting exercise ministries for families in their congregations.  I’m talking about businesses sponsoring youth sports leagues and helping their employees get active.  Because we know that when mom or dad starts getting in shape at work,that can have an impact on other members of the family at home.

The benefits to helping our the youngest members of our society get healthy will last far beyond our time:

And if we succeed, we won’t just raise this generation of children to be healthier adults.  You see, what you all understand is that when we instill healthy habits in our kids today, when we teach them to eat well and stay active today, that affects how they’ll raise their own children years from now.  That affects the habits that they’ll teach them and the food they’ll feed them and how healthy all of our grandkids will be.  And that can continue on throughout the generations.

 That’s what we’re doing here.  We’re impacting generations.  That is the kind of impact we can have, one that will last long after all of us are gone.