Childhood Obesity Forum: Opening Session

April 09, 2010 | 45:03 | Public Domain

With First Lady Michelle Obama

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Remarks by the First Lady at Childhood Obesity Summit

South Court Auditorium

1:40 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you, everyone.  (Applause.)  Thank you all so much.  It’s a pleasure to be here with all of you.

Let me begin by thanking Melody for that kind introduction, that wonderful story.  It’s happening in kitchens and households all over America -- kids really moving for the change.  I also want to thank Melody for her work in chairing the task force.  She has been instrumental, and we’ve seen such significant movement under her leadership.

I’d also like to thank several members of this administration who are providing invaluable leadership on this issue.  Melody introduced them, but let me take time to also thank Secretaries Duncan and Salazar, OBM Director Peter Orszag, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan and Nancy-Ann DeParle.  Is Nancy-Ann here?  She is the Director of the White House Office of Health Reform and she obviously has been incredibly instrumental on this and so many efforts in this administration.

Thank you all for your leadership.  This has been an administration-wide effort and I am so proud of this team.  Everyone in this administration has embraced this issue with a level of fervor and commitment.  That's why we are able to be standing here today, having made so much progress in such a short period of time.

This gathering has never happened before at the White House.  It’s one where we’re bringing together teachers and child advocates, doctors and nurses, business leaders, public servants, researchers and health experts to talk about one of the most serious and difficult problems facing our kids today, and that is the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country.

We’re here because we all care deeply about the health and well-being of America’s children.  And we’ve gathered folks from across America and across just about every relevant field because, in the end, solving this problem is going to take every single one of us.

And that’s really at the heart of the “Let’s Move” campaign.

We launched this campaign two months ago, but the idea actually was inspired by the planting of the White House Kitchen Garden.

Last March, with the help of local students who have been so incredible, we planted the garden on the South Lawn of the White House, and it allowed us to begin a conversation about the importance not just of healthy eating -- eating right, eating the good food -- but also about getting exercise into our lives.

The kids during that whole year of planting and harvesting showed so much enthusiasm, so much excitement about that garden and about the potential of the topic that we realized there was an opportunity to do much more, because they were so open.

So we launched “Let’s Move.”  The campaign is designed to raise awareness about the problem of childhood obesity and to focus on how we as a nation have to come together to solve it.

My husband signed a presidential memorandum creating the first-ever government-wide Task Force on Childhood Obesity, composed of representatives from key agencies across the government.

And since then, I have spoken to so many people.  I’ve heard from so many people across this country.

I’ve met with mayors and governors and I’ve asked them to do their part to build healthier cities and states.

I’ve met with School Nutrition Association members -- the folks who decide what’s served in schools –- and I’ve asked them to do their part to offer healthier meals and snacks to our kids at school.

I’ve met with the food manufacturers and asked them to do their part to improve the quality of the food that they provide and to do a better job of marketing nutritious food to our kids.

I’ve met with kids -- met with a bunch of them the other day in my first town hall meeting, full of kids -- (laughter) -- and they were wonderful.  And I asked them to do their part.  I asked them nicely -- (laughter) -- but I asked them to do their part as well.  What I told them is that they were the most important players in this piece because it’s up to them to make different decisions; to try to make it a little easier on their parents to try new things and to incorporate exercise.

And I’ve been meeting with parents, too, because we all need to do our parts, as well, because the fact is, is that our kids didn’t do this to themselves.  They don’t decide the sugar content in soda or the advertising content of a television show.  Kids don’t choose what’s served to them for lunch at school, and shouldn’t be deciding what’s served to them for dinner at home.  And they don’t decide whether there’s time in the day or room in the budget to learn about healthy eating or to spend time playing outside.

We make those decisions.  That’s all up to us.

And I know how hard it is.  I know how hard it is as a parent when you’re bombarded by ads for junk food; when you’re hit with a barrage of conflicting stories about what’s healthy and what’s not; when you always feel like you’re failing to meet some impossible standard for working parents -- or for any parents for that matter.

We also know how hard it is for schools to provide nutritious lunches with just a few dollars to make that happen.  We know the budget constraints facing local governments in these tough times.  And we all know how difficult this problem is when playgrounds and ballparks are competing with video games and social networking sites; and when our children are simply surrounded by many more opportunities to eat badly and to sit around than they are to eat well and move.

But we also know this -- that over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled.  That is a fact.  Nearly one third of children in America now are overweight or obese.  That's a reality.  And unless we act now, things are only going to get worse.  That is a fact.

“Let’s Move” recognizes this reality and recognizes that there are a few things that we can do right now that can make a big difference.

First, we have to help parents and empower consumers by encouraging companies to offer healthier options and by providing more customer-friendly labels so that people can figure out what’s healthy and what isn’t.

And there are tools and resources available right now to parents and kids at our Web site,

Second, with 31 million children getting lunch through federal lunch programs, we can do so much more to provide healthy meals and snacks where our kids spend most of their days.

And I am pleased that the Senate Agriculture Committee has made a significant contribution towards the President’s goal of investing an additional $1 billion per year to ensure that the food provided to our children in schools is nutritious and healthy, and that fewer children in this country go hungry.

Third, we can do much more to make sure that all families have access to healthy and affordable food in their own communities.  23.5 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, live in communities without a supermarket.  That means far fewer healthier options are available to so many families who are going to be working to try to figure this out.  They won’t have access to the resources they need to do what we’re asking them to do.

So, we’re working with the private sector to reach a very ambitious goal, and that is to completely eliminate food deserts in this country.

And finally, there is much, much more that we can do to help kids stay physically active, not just in school but outside of school as well.

And if we can make real progress in these four areas, then there’s so much more else we can do.  But these four areas, as a country, we can reach our ultimate goal, and the ultimate goal for “Let’s Move” is to solve the problem of childhood obesity in a generation so that children born today grow up at a healthy weight with better notions of what is healthy, with better habits, who are incorporating exercise into their lives on a more regular basis, so there are more kids like the ones that Melody described, who know what it even means to eat healthy.  That's our goal.

And to achieve this goal, we are going to need all of you.  We’re going to need all of you -- your insight, your experience, your guidance.  And that’s why we are so excited about this gathering here today, because you all know this issue better than just about anyone.  So many of you have dedicated your lives to fighting this battle, and many of you have just -- are just thankful that there’s someone else shining the spotlight on what you have known for a long, long time.

This -- folks in this room, all of you working together, can do more than just about anyone to help us tackle this issue.  What we have done is started a national conversation.  We’ve started an important national conversation.  But we need your help to propel that conversation into a national response.

So today is very important.  The work that you do here is really meaningful, which is why you have so many heavy-hitters here, because we need your advice and your input.

And to make that happen, we’re going to have you break into smaller sessions, led by members of the task force that will focus on these four key components of “Let’s Move.”  And the information that we collect here today will be essential to construct the final report that's going to come from the task force -- a report that will serve as a very important roadmap, with goals, benchmarks, measurable outcomes, that will help us collectively tackle this challenge.

So, with that, all I have to say is let’s move.  (Laughter.)  Let’s get this going.  Thank you all so much.  Thank you for your energy, your expertise.  I thank our administration.  I am confident, because of the stories we hear from kids, that they’re ready for us to move.  They are more than ready.  Once again they’re waiting for us.  So let’s get this started.  And thank you so much and have a productive meeting.  Thanks so much.  (Applause.)

1:55 P.M. EDT

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