Remarks by The First Lady at a President's Council on Physical Fitness and Nutrition Event
Columbia Heights Educational Campus
2:38 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Hi, everybody. Yay, we’re here, we’re doing it! (Applause.) It’s so exciting. I am thrilled. I have been waiting for this day for a long, long time, and it is finally here. And I want to thank you all for being here and for hosting us.
As you know, my other partner, the President, was supposed to be here with us, but he had some other stuff going on. He sends his regrets. He would -- trust me, he would rather be here. (Laughter.) But this is an important issue, and we didn’t want to postpone it. So hopefully I will be a satisfactory substitution. (Applause.)
I want to start by first thanking Amy for just being a fabulously amazing middle-schooler and for her wonderful introduction. Thank you, Amy. Great job. (Applause.)
And I have to thank our co-chairs of the President’s Council -- Dominique Dawes, who has just been a terrific support to this White House and to these issues. She’s just a fabulous woman and just so eloquent and poised. We are just thrilled to have her. And our other co-chair Drew Brees, who, you know, what do you say about Drew Brees, except we’re so lucky to have him as a part of this. He regrets that he couldn’t be here.
But we are so grateful to Dominique and to Drew, and also to the executive director of the Council, Shellie Pfohl. Shellie, I know you’re out here. Everybody should know Shellie. She’s there in the fuchsia. (Applause.)
To all the Council members who have taken the time not just to participate on this Council but to come here today, it’s going to mean so much to kids across the country to see world-class athletes and chefs and trainers and experts just coming together for the entire issue of making sure that our kids are healthy. So I am personally grateful for your willingness to be a part of this, and thank you so much for your time.
I also want to recognize our mayor here in Washington, D.C., Mayor Fenty, who just got here. There he is. Thank you, Mr. Mayor. (Applause.) This is an appropriate event for him to be at, because he’s a jock. (Laughter.) Yeah, yeah. So he’s somebody who lives the message. And we’re grateful for your support and your role modeling of the issue. Thank you, sir.
And we also have Congressman John Sarbanes here as well. Congressman, there you are. (Applause.) Thank you so much for your support on this issue.
It is great to be here at the Columbia Heights Educational Campus. (Applause.) This is a beautiful facility, very impressive. You drive into a parking lot, and it doesn’t look like a school. I’m impressed, it looks very, very good. And I got a chance to meet your outstanding principal -- (applause) -- Maria Tukeva. Where are you, Principal? (Applause.) And I understand she’s also the founder of -- yes, yes. Thank you for creating one of the top high schools in the country right here in Washington, D.C. (Applause.) Well done, well done.
And of course, I want to thank all the students from the Lincoln Multicultural Middle School -- where are my students? (Applause.) Thank you all for joining us.
I sort of tried to get in my gear -- I’m going to try and do a few things with you. I got on flat shoes today. But I’m going to do my best.
Today we’re here to talk about an issue that is so close to my heart as First Lady, but also as a mom. And it’s an issue that’s of importance to all of us -- eating right, staying active, and giving our kids the bright future that they deserve.
And right now, we can be doing better by our kids, because one in three of our children is either overweight or obese in this country. And doctors are seeing more and more children with health problems related to obesity -- high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type II diabetes -- and these used to be diseases that we would only see in adults, but now they’re becoming a regular part of a pediatrician’s practice.
And every year, as a result of these conditions, we’re spending billions of dollars on treating obesity-related conditions, and we can’t afford to keep going down this road. We can’t afford it for our young people, and we can’t afford it as a nation.
That’s why, earlier this year, we started this wonderful nationwide initiative that we’ve called “Let’s Move.” (Applause.) Yay for “Let’s Move”. And it’s an initiative that has been designed and worked on by so many partners all across the country. People have been fabulous about this issue. But our goal is to end the epidemic of childhood obesity in a generation. We are making this a big, huge generational goal -- with the notion that kids born today are going to have a different idea of what it means to be healthy, so that they grow up at a healthy weight, with good habits, that they can then teach the generations that follow.
But one key to getting this done and solving this problem is passing a strong child nutrition bill. And I can’t emphasize this more -– this bill controls the programs that provide school lunches to kids all across the country. And what we do know is that our kids are getting most of their activity, most of their nutrition at school. So if we can do something to improve the quality of food in our schools, we’re going to go a long way to affecting the futures of our children. And right now, that bill is making its way through Congress with what I’m proud to hear is strong bipartisan support.
This is an issue that everyone is getting behind because it’s not about politics, it’s about our kids. A majority of senators and House members from both parties have publicly called for swift passage of a strong proposal. So, once again, I urge Congress to provide the resources that we’re going to need to support these important programs that will be able to help change our children’s futures and those after that. This is an important time. So we’re looking forward to the Congress getting this done.
But you all know back when we were kids -- and I’m talking to the grown folks here -- being healthy wasn’t that hard. It just wasn’t that hard. Parents, particularly in the summer, could just open up their back door, send the kids out, give them a little breakfast and tell them, go away and don’t come back until we’re ready to see you again. (Laughter.) And you might run in for a second if you were a kid and grab a little lunch, right? But you weren’t watching the TV. You had to get up and get back out.
And you usually wouldn’t even come home until dinner, and you wouldn’t even want to come home for dinner, because you were having so much fun running around. You had to be forced to sit down and eat a meal. And the meals that we got were generally pretty healthy, because they were usually cooked at home with a whole lot of loving care and fresh products and produce.
Today we’ve got so many distractions -- we’ve got video games, we’ve got computers -- that are just keeping kids inside after school. The whole culture of our society has changed. During the summer, a lot of times this is what kids are doing. And some folks are living in neighborhoods where they can’t go outside, it’s not safe to open up that door and let your kids run forever.
And we have some communities that don’t have access to that fresh produce and those fresh vegetables. We are dealing with millions of people living in food deserts. And many parents are just overworked -- they’re juggling too much -- and although they want to do it, they just don’t have time to cook a home-cooked meal every night. They’re lucky if it happens once a week.
So things have changed. It’s gotten a lot tougher, and I think that’s why we’re seeing the outcomes in our kids that we’re seeing. There’s a reason why we’re here today.
But “Let’s Move” is about trying to help change all that. That’s really the goal. It’s not to place blame. It’s not to point fingers. It’s really to help parents in communities and business leaders find a way out of this dilemma.
But efforts to help kids stay healthy and active actually go back much further than what we’re trying to do here today. Way back in 1956 -- this is a little history lesson, students -- Dwight Eisenhower was worried that the lack of exercise was causing young people in America to fall behind their peers in Europe and around the world. And so he established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness to get kids moving. This was back in 1956. Does anybody remember that? I don’t want to out anybody -- (laughter) -- on age, but I’m sure we have some people who remember that.
The Council’s original mission was simple: to encourage young people to get enough exercise. And that is still a very important component of what we need to do today. But today we know that being healthy is about more than just being physically fit. It’s also about eating healthy foods and really learning which foods to enjoy in moderation. That’s one of the reasons I talk about burgers and fries, because a life without burgers and fries is really depressing. (Laughter.)
AUDIENCE MEMBER: And fried chicken.
MS. OBAMA: And fried chicken. (Laughter.) And just fried. (Laughter.) But it’s about learning about all the different ways to eat healthy and to strike those balances and to be active -– whether that means playing a sport, which many kids do, but not every kid is an athlete and they don’t have to be. Because you can get the exercise you need from walking your dog vigorously, running with your dog, doing some push-ups at home, or just playing. You know, the work that we’re talking about used to be called play. (Laughter.)
And it’s about developing healthy habits that kids will have for the rest of their lives. Because the one thing we know, why we start with kids, is kids learn. They’re not like us. They’re not stuck in time. You know, they learn something, they take it on, and it lasts forever. So we’re talking about developing lifetime skills that kids will then teach to their kids.
That’s why yesterday, the President signed an Executive Order expanding the mission of this historic Council and creating the new President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition -- all three components. (Applause.) So we’re just broadening the scope of what we have to focus on. And this group, as Dominique mentioned, will include fitness and nutrition experts who’ve agreed to help raise awareness about how we can make our kids and our schools and our communities healthier.
This Council, as I said, is made up of everyone -- chefs, doctors, health experts, personal trainers. We’ve got our Olympic gold medalists. We’ve got a NASCAR driver. We’ve got NBA all-stars, tennis legends. We’ve got it all because we know in the end, kids listen to these heroes in so many ways.
And those are just a few of the 25 men and women who will be donating their time and expertise to this cause. It’s just more people coming on and making “Let’s Move” a broader and stronger campaign.
Together, they’re committed to working with government and the private sector -– that’s businesses, schools and nonprofits –- to help kids everywhere learn about healthy eating and the importance of being active each and every single day.
And we’re broadening the mission of the Council so that we can make a bigger difference -– focusing on what -- not just what you do with your bodies, but what you put in your bodies. We all know, if we’re focused on our fitness, it is not enough just to exercise -- you have to focus on diet. I still struggle with that. At 46 years old, if I want to lose some weight, I can work out as much as I want to -- right, Mayor? -- but you got to have that balance of food to really cut the fat. So we’re really excited about this broader mission.
Here -- right here in Columbia Heights, you’re already well ahead of the game. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to come here, because we wanted to model -- (applause) -- what’s already working. Because that’s another thing about “Let’s Move,” we don’t have to recreate the wheel; we have to just find the models that are already working and spread those across the country. And Columbia Heights is serving as one of those models.
I know that you’ve made the President’s physical fitness test an important part of PE class, just kids living up to that test. You collect information on the student’s weight and their heart rate and the progress that they’re making throughout the year. And I also hear that at the end of the year, the students with the most improvement get to take part in a fitness challenge with teachers and staff, which is huge. (Applause.)
Because as we’ve been talking with schools, what we’re finding consistently is that when the teachers and the staff are involved, when they’re sitting around at the lunch table and they’re practicing the same habits that they’re trying to instill in kids, it just makes kids want to do it even more.
So I commend you all on what you’re doing here. That’s what the President’s Council is all about. It’s about all of us pushing ourselves to meet new challenges, even when they’re difficult, because none of this is easy. It only gets easy if you start young. That’s what -- that’s the gift that we can offer our children. If they start out with these habits early on, it just makes life easier for them.
It’s about having fun -- let’s not forget that -- because this isn’t all work and calorie counting and all that. This is about having some fun and getting more opportunity for kids to be active and to find a way that connects with each of them, because not every kid is going to connect to activities in the same way. So we’ve got to have a broad base of opportunities for kids.
So, again, I want to thank you all here at Columbia Heights for setting such a wonderful model, such a great example. I want you all to keep doing what you’re doing and help spread your message to other schools not just here in the District, but around the nation. You guys are a true model.
Again, I want to thank our Council members for their excitement and enthusiasm. And I think now is the time that we actually are going to get moving. So we’re going to do some activities with the kids. And as I said, I’m going to try and hang with you all, but this bow might get in the way. (Laughter.)
But I want to thank you all for being here. So let’s get moving. So thank you all so much. (Applause.)
2:55 P.M. EDT