Remarks by The First Lady at Let's Move! Parenting Bloggers Event
11:50 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Hey, everybody! (Applause.) Well, welcome to the White House. You guys, sit down, rest yourselves! (Laughter.) Well, I am so excited. I’ve heard you guys have been having a good time. Is that correct?
MRS. OBAMA: I want to welcome all of the many amazing moms and I think all of the 10 or so dads in the house. Go, dads! Go, dads. (Laughter.) I’m so glad you all are here, really. We’ve just been looking forward to this day for quite some time. So I hope that everybody is treating you well and that you’re enjoying your time here at the White House.
I want to start, of course, by thanking my good friend Dominique, and just -- for that wonderful introduction. But as you were speaking, I was also thinking in the back, we’ve had some good times. We have done some pretty incredible things out on that lawn and all over the world. And you did do a backflip, though. You did. (Laughter.) That day, you did a backflip, and we were all marveling at the fact that you just popped a flip out like that. (Laughter.) Isn’t Dominique amazing? (Applause.) I mean, just terrific, poised. And I have seen her go from being a single, professional woman on the go -- you got married since we’ve known you. You now have two little kids, two little girls who I’m going to see next week hopefully.
So I’ve watched you not grow up, but grow into a more complex version of yourself. And I’m really proud of you and grateful for the work that you’ve done as co-chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. So she’s been a terrific champion and ambassador to us. Thank you, Dominique. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
Now, I also want to thank all of you for joining us today at the White House. And thank you for the work that you all are doing to inform and empower parents around so many important issues –- everything from breastfeeding, to child nutrition, to getting kids to be more physically active. You all are taking on some of the biggest challenges that parents are facing when it comes to their kids’ well-being. And that’s really why we invited you here today to talk more about Let’s Move! Because no one plays a bigger, more important role in our kids’ health than we do as parents. In fact, I’m not sure if many of you know the history of my involvement in childhood obesity and Let’s Move!, but I came to this issue really as a mom.
Believe it or not, we haven’t always lived here in the White House. (Laughter.) Although sometimes it feels that way. But it wasn’t that long ago that I was a busy working mom with a job as an associate dean and eventually as vice president at the University of Chicago hospitals. And life back then was a constant juggling act for our family. Barack was traveling all the time –- he was running for some office at some point in time. (Laughter.) He was going back and forth to Washington. And at the time, the girls were little, and they had those little-kid schedules, boy, filled with soccer practice and birthday parties, playdates and dance classes.
We were always rushing, always pressed for time. And as a result, meal times were all about whatever was quick and easy -– the drive-thru, the microwave, takeout –- any convenience food you could think of, we did it. And this went on for quite a while, but one day, I got a wakeup call. We were at our pediatrician’s office for a routine checkup, and after doing the exam -- you know, they take the measurements and weigh them and measure their head and all that stuff -- our doctor got this look of concern on his face. And he asked me, “What are you all eating at home?” And right then and there, I remember, in his -- the exam room, my heart sank. The thought that I was maybe doing something that wasn’t good for my kids was devastating.
And maybe some of you can relate, but as an overachiever, I was like, “Wait, what do you mean, I’m not getting an A in motherhood? Is this like a B-? A C+? What are you telling me?” (Laughter.) But it really threw me. And that was my lightbulb moment -- when I realized that we needed to make some real changes in our family routine. So I rolled up my sleeves, went home, did some homework, and I searched for, obviously, simple, affordable approaches and started making some changes.
For starters, I tried to cook more -– nothing crazy, just a few more home-cooked dinners each week. Maybe baked chicken on Monday, pasta and a salad on Wednesday. And I always tried to make a nice Sunday dinner that would provide leftovers for the week. Instead of cookies and chips for snacks and sugary drinks, we switched to fruit and string cheese and lots of water. And dessert in our household went from being a basic human right every night -- (laughter) -- to being a special treat for weekends.
So we really shook things up. And I have to tell you, this new routine was not very popular at first. I still remember how the girls would sit at the kitchen table and I’d sort out their lunches, and they would sit with their little sorry apple slices and their cheese sticks. (Laughter.) And they’d have these sad little faces. They would speak longingly of their beloved snack foods that were no longer in our pantry. (Laughter.) And as they ate their veggies each night at dinner, they would curse their mother under their breath -– which was okay as long as it was under their breath. (Laughter.)
So we faced some initial resistance. But here’s the thing -- we stuck with it, and eventually, our kids adjusted. Their palettes actually changed, and they got used to eating food that wasn’t drenched in sugar, salt and fat. And at our next checkup, everything was back to normal. And our pediatrician was amazed. He asked me, he said, “What did you all do?” And he wasn’t asking hypothetically; he really wanted to know how we’d been able to turn things around so quickly. Because he told me that in his practice, he was seeing an increase in the number of families struggling with the exact same problem. We had long discussions in the doctor’s office about rising childhood obesity rates and the impact he was seeing on his patients’ health outcomes -– increased type II diabetes, high blood pressure. He was seeing all this. He saw the impact on their dental care. I mean, the list could go on and on. This is what he was experiencing on the ground.
Now, fast-forward to a couple of years later, when Barack was first elected President and I had to figure out what was I going to do as First Lady. And I knew I wanted to work on causes that were personal to me, something that I cared deeply about. And I thought back to my family’s experience with healthy eating, the question that our doctor had asked us. That’s when I decided that Let’s Move! would be my attempt to help other families across this country answer that same question.
And that’s really the point of Let’s Move! -– to try to make things easier for parents who are doing everything they can to keep their kids healthy. Now, to achieve this goal, we’ve been working to provide better information for parents through efforts like MyPlate, as you heard about -- a simple icon to explain what makes a healthy plate.
We’re revamping food nutrition labels so that parents don’t have to stand in the grocery aisle squinting and scratching their heads to try to figure out which product is actually healthy or not. We’re working to build healthier communities for our families, so we’re supporting mayors nationwide who are doing great things like revitalizing parks, creating youth sports leagues so our kids have more to do, laying down bike paths to make it easier for people to just get out and walk.
We’re taking on food marketing as well, engaging celebrities like Steph Curry -- one of our household favorites -- Jordan Sparks to promote our new fruits and veggies campaign, FNV. We’re working with Sesame Street to use everyone’s favorite furry friends to promote fresh produce in over 30,000 grocery stores.
And finally, as many of you know, we’re working to create healthier daycare centers and schools for all of our kids, with more nutritious food and more physical activity. We have helped install more than 4,000 salad bars in schools that are serving more than 2 million kids. We’ve eliminated junk food marketing in our classrooms. We’ve pushed schools to provide 60 minutes of physical activity each day. And we’ve set higher standards for the food that we serve in schools for our kids. And I have to say, this is one of my proudest achievements -- all of us. Today, I am proud to say that 97 percent of schools are now meeting these new standards. Remember all the fuss? Well, they’re getting it done, and that’s terrific. (Applause.)
And as a result of continuing to push on that effort, 31 million kids are eating healthier school meals every day. Look we believe that when you’re doing your best to serve your kids nutritious food at home, that work shouldn’t be undermined in the school lunchroom. Instead, it should be supported.
And that’s really the bottom line when we talk about this issue: That parents should have more control and more choices when it comes to their kids’ health. And we’re doing everything we can to make your jobs, our jobs just a little bit easier.
But of course, we also understand that government alone can’t solve this problem. And at the end of the day, this is really on us as parents. We’re the only ones in charge, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. And we often have to make our kids do things that they don’t want to. I mean, if our kids came home and told us -- which my kids would do -- “I don’t like math,” we wouldn’t say, “Okay, no more math classes for you. You’re done with that.” (Laughter.) When they don’t want to go to the dentist, we don’t say, “Okay, no more checkups, no more cleanings, no braces for you. You don’t like it, I’m not going to make you do it. Of course we don’t do that. So why would we treat nutrition any differently? Why would we look at our kids and go, “You don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.”
As adults we get to and have to make the final call. And honestly, that was just about the only thing I had going for me back when I changed my own family’s diet. My girls were little then. They couldn’t drive. They didn’t have jobs, so they didn’t have any money. (Laughter.) So they had to eat the food that I bought them. And I was the one who decided what to buy at the grocery store.
And that’s really our secret weapon -- as parents, we decide where to spend our money. And believe it or not, we truly have the power to control the marketplace for food in this country. Just think about it. All these healthier, better-for-you products that we’re seeing on the shelves now, they didn’t just come out of nowhere. Fast-food places didn’t just randomly decide to add apple slices and skim milk to their kids’ meals. No, these products were developed because we demanded them, and companies stepped up to meet the demand.
And if we want to keep seeing better food options for our families, then we need to keep raising our voices and convincing more parents to join us in voting with their wallets. We as parents need to be leading this conversation about kids’ health in this country. So when naysayers claim that we just can’t afford to serve our kids healthy food, it’s up to us as parents to push back and say, “We can’t afford not to give our kids nutritious food.” Because when we’re spending hundreds of billions of dollars treating obesity-related diseases, we simply don’t have the luxury to ignore this issue.
And when folks mock our efforts, it’s parents who need to be out there saying, “Excuse me, but our children’s health isn’t a joke. One third of kids being overweight or obese isn’t funny. Kids being diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure at young ages is just not a laughing matter.” This is a serious issue, and we need to be doing something about it.
And you all are such powerful messengers on this issue. You have such an incredible platform. Just the 150 of you in this room alone reach tens of millions of people. Let’s just step back. (Laughter.) Just look at yourselves, all the power that you’re wielding right here in this room. Mommy bloggers -- and the 10 dads, yeah. (Laughter.) So don’t ever doubt the difference you all can make, both as bloggers with a national reach, and as leaders in your own family.
And I know changing habits and routines is not easy. I know there are times when you don’t feel like fighting those food battles with your kids. But I can tell you from my own experience that when you start young with your kids and you keep at it, eventually, you reap the rewards.
See, my girls today as young women, teenagers -- you’ve seen them. They’re growing up. (Laughter.) They still enjoy their weekly dessert, and they still eat out just like regular teenagers. But more often than not, I see them reaching for a piece of fruit as a snack when they’re hungry. Right now, I see them doing on their own -- looking for ways to incorporate exercise into their lives. They’re doing this all on their own, without any prodding or involvement from their parents. Now that they’re able to make their own decisions, they have this foundation of knowledge that was built when they were younger, just when I thought they weren’t listening to me. (Laughter.) Go figure that out.
And as First Lady, I’ve seen the impact of this work on a national scale, as well. After so many years, childhood obesity rates have stopped rising, and rates for our youngest kids have actually started to fall. And I have no doubt that if we keep pushing forward on this issue, one day, we will look back on the food we used to feed our kids and it’ll be like looking back on the days when we didn’t wear seat belts or bike helmets or sunscreen. We’ll be like, “Man, can you believe we used to eat that stuff?” (Laughter.)
So make no mistake about it, what we’re doing is working. And we can’t let up now, not when we’re finally starting to see some progress. So for those of you who are wondering, I have no intentions of stopping this work once my family leaves the White House. (Applause.) It’s not like I have a one-year or two-year timeframe on this issue. For me, this issue is the rest-of-my-life kind of timeframe. Because I know that’s what it’s going to take to truly solve this problem.
And truly, I hope that all of you will stick with me on this issue for years to come, even as your kids grow up and become human beings. (Laughter.) We need to keep at it for all the other families and parents out there who are still pushing and working on this issue. I hope that you all will use your voice -- continue to use your voices and your influence to inspire and support other parents as they work to raise healthy kids. If we all keep working together, I know we can keep making a difference on this issue, and I know we can keep doing better for our next generation. Because we need them healthy and strong and focused.
So once again, I really want to thank you all. This was the reason why we wanted to have you here. Yeah, we wanted to talk to you about Let’s Move! and show you all our nifty gadgets, but we wanted to reward you in some way for the hard work that you’ve been doing out there, and give you the information hopefully that will help you spread the word even more. There is power in this room. There is power in individual voices and you all are showing it every single day. And I could not be more proud of this group and all that you’ve achieved.
So keep it up. Don’t get tired. (Laughter.) There’s a lot more work to do. I hope you all enjoy getting to see the White House Kitchen Garden. We’re just getting -- we haven’t even done the planning, so what you’re going to see is the hoop houses, right? Everything is hooped over. When are we going to do the planting? What’s our -- in early April, we bring the kids out and we start our planting. But we wanted you to at least see what’s out there, so I hope you enjoy that. The bees are out there, too. Hopefully they’re quiet.
But I really, truly look forward to working with you all in the months and years ahead. So enjoy yourselves, and God bless you all. Thanks so much. (Applause.)
12:10 P.M. EDT