Remarks by the First Lady to the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit
George Washington University
1:45 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: (Applause.) Thank you all so much. (Applause.) Oh, my goodness. Yes! (Applause.) Thank you all so much. It’s great to see you. It is truly a pleasure to be with all of you today.
And of course, I want to start by thanking Eli Manning -- (applause) -- oh, my gosh! -- for that very kind introduction. I’m probably as excited to see him as I am to see all of you. (Laughter.) But I’m thrilled that he could join us today, and I’m just grateful for all of his work and leadership.
I also want to thank Dr. Steven Knapp, not just for hosting us here at GW, but for all the wonderful work this university is doing to forward the agenda of nutrition and fitness. We are so grateful that they are our partners and our neighbors as well.
And I also want to recognize Larry Soler -- Larry for -- and everybody else at the partnership for all of their wonderful work, as well as Kathleen Tullie and the team at Reebok for all of their leadership. And it’s just a thrill to be working with both of these wonderful organizations and companies that are doing all of these terrific things.
But most of all, I want to thank all of you -- the advocates, experts, and executives who have been leading the way to give all of our children a healthy start to their lives. Because of your tremendous efforts, more than half a million people in underserved communities now have access to fresh, healthy food. Because of you, major American businesses like Disney and Walmart and Darden Restaurants are now offering healthier menus and products. Military leaders are serving healthier food on their bases. Faith leaders are educating their congregations about eating healthy. Nearly two and a half million kids have enrolled in recreational sports classes. Democrats and Republicans right here in Washington -- (laughter) -- came together to pass groundbreaking legislation that is transforming our school lunch program.
And just last week, we had the sheer delight to launch Let’s Move Active Schools, an unprecedented effort to invest more than $70 million to promote physical activity and bring physical education back to our schools. Yes. (Applause.)
And today, we are beyond thrilled to announce that Reebok is joining this effort with an additional investment of $30 million over the next three years. Absolutely. (Applause.) This investment -- oh -- as you’ve seen, it comes after years of leadership through their BOKS Kids program which supports innovative programs to get kids active in our schools.
So again, I just want to take a moment today to say how grateful I am for Reebok’s longstanding commitment to this issue, and for their groundbreaking investment to take that work to the next level. Thanks to efforts like these, today, we are finally starting to see some results. In Mississippi, obesity rates among elementary school children have dropped 13 percent. Rates are also falling in cities -- yes -- (applause) -- like Philadelphia and New York, and in California as well.
So together, slowly but surely, we are beginning to turn the tide on childhood obesity in America. Together, we are inspiring leaders from every sector to take ownership of this issue. And with this type of broad and inclusive engagement, I am confident that we will continue to make steady progress.
But we also know that at the end of the day, when it comes to the health of our kids, no one has a greater impact than each of us do as parents. We know that families play a uniquely important role in the work that we’re all doing. And that’s one of the things I want to focus on today -– what all of us can do to better empower families who want to make healthy choices for their kids.
Now, on one level, this seems pretty obvious. I mean, after all, our kids aren’t the ones going to the supermarket or waking up early to make breakfast -- at least not in my household. (Laughter.) And they certainly don’t sign themselves up for ballet and basketball clinics at the Y. That’s our job. More than anyone else, we as parents decide what our kids eat, and how active they are every single day.
But, unfortunately, over the past 50 years, it’s gotten a whole lot harder for many families to make healthy choices. For starters, people have a lot less time. Back in 1980, way back then -- (laughter) -- just 39 percent of married families had two working parents. But today, it’s nearly 60 percent. Just three decades ago, the average employee worked 180 hours less each year than today’s average employee.
So for many parents, every day feels like a cross between a high wire act and an obstacle course, and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. And I know a little bit about what that’s like. While I have plenty of help and support today, I didn’t always live in the White House. (Laughter.) And it wasn’t that long ago that I was a working mom, juggling a demanding job with two small children and a husband who traveled.
Back then, something as simple as a grocery shopping trip required a finely-honed plan of attack. (Laughter.) I mean, that trip to the supermarket was just one of a dozen items I had to check off my to-do list within my few precious hours of errand time. So each week, armed with my budget and my list, I was on a mission to get in and out of that store in less than 30 minutes. Thirty minutes -- that’s all I had. (Laughter.)
So if the fruit wasn’t already pre-packaged, you could forget about it. I did not have time for bagging and weighing and calculating costs in my head. I was all about grab and go, you hear me? (Laughter.) And if I had my daughters with me, then the clock was really ticking before somebody needed to be fed or diapered or put down for a nap. Oh, and heaven help me if I got all the way to the produce aisle at the end and realized that I’d made a rookie error and forgot the cereal or the pasta in one of the previous aisles. Oh, no, then I had to maneuver that big, heavy cart full of groceries and those two little kids all the way around the store -- and trust me, no one was happy about that. (Laughter.)
So I didn’t exactly have time to peruse the aisles, thoughtfully reading labels. And I know my experiences are not unique. I mean, every day, parents across this country are doing that same frantic grocery store sprint. So it’s not particularly helpful to bombard them with complex labels or vague messages to “eat healthy” and “make better choices” without clearly defining what that means.
What is helpful is to provide families with the information they need when they need it. And this is the first point I want to make. The fact is that we can give parents the most comprehensive pamphlets and the most up-to-date websites. But we cannot expect folks to remember everything they’ve read days or weeks later when they’re in that grocery store aisle, or opening that menu, or standing in front of the freezer pondering what to make for dinner. Instead, we need to offer parents clear information at the moment when they’re actually deciding what to buy, cook and order for their kids.
And I’m talking about things that folks like the folks at Darden Restaurants are doing to revamp their kid's menus with healthier options. I’m talking about our new MyPlate Pinterest recipe initiative that provides more than 1,500 healthy recipes so that with the push of an icon on an iPhone, parents have access to easy, tasty meals that they know will actually be good for their kids. I’m talking about Walmart’s new “Great for You” seal which they’re putting on healthy food items in their stores, making it much easier to identify healthy products.
And remember, when we talk about giving parents better information, we’re not just talking about obvious things like food labels. We’re also talking about the more subtle messages that shape our decisions every day. Whether, for example, restaurant menus feature mouthwatering pictures of healthy or unhealthy items. Whether a product is shelved right at eye level or lower to the ground, where you have to bend over and reach it, and if you’re bending over, you’re not going to get it. (Laughter.) Whether the produce aisle is the first aisle to greet you when you enter the store, or the last aisle you pass on your way out when you’re already running late to get home for the babysitter.
I mean, that is all a part of the information landscape that shapes our choices every day. And going forward, we all need to make sure that these strategies are part of our efforts to improve the health of families in this country. We all need to focus on that.
But while we know we must make it easier for parents to access healthier foods, we also know that, at the end of the day, our kids actually need to eat that food. And that’s the second point I want to discuss.
Now, we know that as parents, it’s not always easy to get our kids to eat what we serve them, but that doesn’t mean we ignore our responsibilities. I mean, we would never dream of letting our kids skip going to the doctor or learning how to add and subtract just because they don’t like it. And the same thing is true about eating healthy.
We know we have to be firm. But unfortunately, we also know that, as parents, we certainly are not the only influence on our kids’ food preferences. Every day, our kids are surrounded by food advertisements on TV and the Internet, on billboards and in stores, and even in their schools. And it’s not just commercials; it’s in product placements in the shows themselves, in what the characters they worship are eating and drinking. And research shows that kids who see foods advertised on TV are significantly more likely to ask for them at the store.
Fortunately, a number of companies have stepped up to set new standards for responsible marketing. Disney is cutting all advertisements for unhealthy foods from their children’s programming. Absolutely. (Applause.) Mars, Hershey and Pepsi have stopped targeting certain products to children under the age of 12.
But while we’re seeing some progress, we know that we still have a lot of work to do. Because whatever we believe about personal responsibility and self-determination, I think we can all agree that that doesn’t always apply to kids. I think we can all agree that parents need more control over the products and messages their kids are exposed to.
And let’s be clear, this isn’t just about companies stepping up to limit the marketing of unhealthy foods to kids. It’s also about companies realizing that marketing healthy foods can be responsible and the profitable thing to do as well.
And American companies can play a vital role to help make eating fruits and veggies fun and, yes, even cool. Study after study proves this point. For example, in one study, researchers gave kids a choice between eating a chocolate bar or some broccoli. Unsurprisingly, 78 percent of the kids chose the chocolate, and just 22 percent chose the broccoli. But when they put an Elmo sticker on the broccoli -- (laughter) -- and a sticker of an unknown cartoon character on the chocolate, 50 percent of the kids chose the broccoli and 50 percent chose the chocolate. So that little Elmo sticker added 28 percentage points to broccoli. (Laughter.) The power of Elmo! (Laughter.)
As for profitability, just ask the folks at Birds Eye Vegetables. They launched a major marketing campaign featuring characters from the popular kids' TV show iCarly -- one of my favorites -- and their sales jumped 37 percent. Vidalia Onion did a campaign with Shrek, and their sales went up 50 percent. It turned out that after kids saw these ads for healthy foods, they went and begged their parents to buy them.
So the good news here is that there is real, meaningful evidence that we can actually get our kids excited about eating healthy. Yes. Yes, we can. (Applause.)
But in the end, we also know that it’s not enough simply to change the way our children eat. We have to change our own habits and behaviors as well. And this is the final point I want to make today.
We as parents are our children’s first and best role models, and this is particularly true when it comes to their health. Research shows that kids who have at least one obese parent are more than twice as likely to be obese as adults. So as much as we might plead with our kids to “do as I say, and not as I do,” we know that we can’t lie around on the couch eating French fries and candy bars and expect our kids to eat carrots and run around the block. (Laughter.)
But too often, that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re skipping the gym so that we can drive the kids to school in the morning. We’re eating fast food at lunch so that we have time afterwards to go to the store and pick up something decent for dinner. We are working so hard to keep our kids healthy that we’re neglecting ourselves.
Now, in some ways, that’s what it means to be a parent, right? It means that there are plenty of things that we won’t do for ourselves, but there is nothing that we won’t do for our children. But as it turns out, one of the most important things we can do for our children’s health is to take care of our own health -– and to make being healthy truly a family affair. (Applause.) And giving parents the information and options they need is an important component to helping the entire household become healthier.
I mean, just think for a minute what this country could look like. Imagine walking into any grocery store in America and finding the healthiest options clearly marked and centrally placed so that you know within seconds what’s good for your family when you walk in that store. Imagine opening up a menu in any restaurant and knowing exactly what items will give your family the most nutrition for your hard-earned dollar. Imagine our kids begging and pleading, throwing tantrums to get you to buy more fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Yes, this is possible. (Laughter.) It is possible to create this world! (Applause.)
With more information, responsible marketing, with better labels and product placement, with greater access and affordability -- yes, that’s what’s possible.
And the truth is, it isn’t rocket science. We have everything we need right here and right now to make this happen. We just have to summon the focus and the will. And everyone has to make supporting healthy families their top priority going forward.
And that’s what I plan to do this coming year, and I hope that all of you will join this effort, particularly leaders from our business community. And when businesses step up, yes, it’s important for us to applaud those efforts, but also to encourage them to do even more. We all know -- we know that we won’t solve this problem with any one announcement or commitment. But we will solve this problem with a constant stream of efforts that continuously make real and meaningful change.
And that is our professional obligation as leaders on this issue. It’s also our moral obligation to our children. It’s how we will ensure that our kids can fulfill every last bit of their God-given potential. And finally, it is also our patriotic obligation to our country. It’s how we will raise the next generation of workers and innovators and leaders who will continue to make America the greatest nation on Earth.
So let’s get to work. We can make this happen. I am so excited for all of the accomplishments over the past few years, and I want to once again thank all of you for everything that you’ve done, everything that you will continue to do. And I look so forward to working with you all in the months and years ahead.
Thank you all. God bless.
2:03 P.M. EST