Remarks by the First Lady, Senator Bill Frist, Mayor Cory Booker and Dr. Jim Gavin at Foundation Chair Announcement Conference Call
11:02 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Well, good morning, everyone. This is Mrs. Obama. It’s good to have you all on the line. Thank you so much for joining us as we take another very important step forward in the work to address America’s childhood obesity crisis. This is a very exciting step for us.
As all of you know, nearly two months ago we launched this magnificent campaign, “Let’s Move.” The nationwide goal of the effort, as all of you know, is to rally this country around a single and very ambitious goal, and that’s to solve the problem of childhood obesity in a generation so that children born today will grow up at a healthy weight.
And with this initiative, we’ve issued a call to action for the nation. We said let’s move in so many ways. We said let’s move to give parents the information that they need to make good decisions for their kids’ health. We said let’s move to get healthier food into our schools. Let’s move to get more supermarkets into underserved areas, so that every single American in this country has access to fresh and nutritious foods. And we’ve also said let’s move to help our kids be more physically active –- not just in school but outside of school as well.
But we were also clear from the very beginning when we launched this effort that the solution to this problem isn’t going to come from Washington. I have had the pleasure of talking to a number of experts around this issue, and not a single one of them has said that the answer to this problem is for the federal government to tell people what to do. This is going to take all of us getting involved.
It’s going to require a non-partisan effort because there’s nothing partisan about this issue. There’s nothing Democratic or Republican about wanting our kids to lead active and healthy lives. And there’s really nothing liberal or conservative about wanting to reduce the billions of health care dollars we spend each year treating obesity-related conditions.
Ultimately, this solution is going to be about families and communities making manageable, commonsense changes that fit with their budgets that fit with their needs and their individual goals.
But we all have to play a role in making this happen. Families can’t do this alone, which is why we’re bringing together governors, and mayors, and parents, and educators, and doctors, and businesses, community groups, all of us. And I’ve spoken to almost all of these groups over the last month asking them to come together to tackle this challenge once and for all.
And that’s why a new foundation that we’ve created along with this movement -- the Partnership for Healthy America -- is going to be so critical to these efforts. And I’m very proud of the work that's been done to pull this foundation together.
The Foundation is going to serve as an independent, non-partisan player that’ll mobilize the private sector, foundations, government officials, the media and others around the goals of the “Let’s Move” campaign.
The Foundation will seek truly meaningful commitments from all of these players, and will do something very critical -- and that is measure the success of these efforts and hold us all accountable.
The Foundation is going to also connect potential partners from the public, private and non-profit sectors, working to support the best, the most innovative programs in our communities -– and working to replicate these success stories all across the country. And that's really the key to this. As I’ve traveled around, we have many of the answers already at our fingertips. If you go into states and cities across this country, many are already working to bring their local solutions to this problem. We need to highlight and elevate those successes. This Foundation is going to be critical in playing a role in that. So it’s very exciting.
I have agreed to serve as the honorary chair of this Foundation. And today, I am pleased and very proud to announce that two incredibly outstanding individuals –- Mayor Cory Booker and Senator Bill Frist -– have agreed to serve as the Foundation’s honorary vice chairs.
As all of you know, Senator Frist and Mayor Booker are both distinguished public servants who are passionately committed to the health and well-being of not just our young people but this country.
Over the past four years, Mayor Booker has made tremendous strides transforming the city of Newark. He’s done work to increase affordable housing, doing a fabulous job of reducing crime in the city, renovating the parks, playgrounds and recreation centers to provide safe places for children in the city to be active. And he’s committed to making Newark a model for what a city can do to address childhood obesity.
So I’m so happy to have Mayor Booker with us. I’m thrilled that he’s agreed to bring the kind of energy, that contagious energy that he has, to focus on this issue and lead this new Foundation.
In addition to being a renowned heart surgeon and lung transplant surgeon, Senator Frist served, as you all know, as the Senate Majority Leader from 2003 to 2007.
Since he left the Senate, he’s devoted himself to health and humanitarian efforts around the world, leading medical mission trips to Africa and founding an organization called Hope Through Healing Hands to improve health care in developing nations.
In the Senate, he took the lead in sponsoring legislation to address childhood obesity, and I am truly delighted that he’s agreed to bring his passion and expertise to this Foundation.
I also want to recognize the diverse and talented group of advocates, business leaders, dedicated philanthropists who have come together to serve on the board of this Foundation.
Specifically, I’d like to thank the Board’s Chair, James Gavin, for offering his strong leadership to ensure that this Foundation attracts the kind of commitments that are going to be essential to reach our goals.
And I also want to end by thanking the extraordinary organizations that have come together to organize the fund, and fund this new Foundation. We would not be here if it weren’t for these organizations, and they include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the California Endowment, Kaiser Permanente, Nemours, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Brookings Institute, and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.
This is a phenomenal group of organizations, people, of leaders that represent all of America. I am thrilled that all of you have come together to support this effort. This is why I’m confident that we can move the mark on this issue, because this effort and this issue means so much that we’ve just been able to bring together a group of individuals that has been working on this issue for decades, that understands these challenges in a very powerful way, and will have the commitment and the passion that we need to move this issue forward.
So I am grateful, truly grateful, to all of you -- not just for being on this call, but for taking the time that it’s going to require to get us to our goals.
So with that, it is now my pleasure to turn this meeting over to Senator Frist. Senator Frist, I know you’re there. Thank you, it’s good to have you onboard. I’m very excited.
SENATOR FRIST: Well, thank you, Mrs. Obama, and I just, with everybody on the phone, want to thank you and really applaud you for your vision, for your leadership, your commitment, and your demonstrated understanding that this is a solvable problem and that we can do this and we can end this epidemic within a generation.
It’s an issue that was not an issue in my early childhood years, so it is generational in the way it’s been created, to where it is a true epidemic today. But also it is a solvable problem, and we can do so, just as you outlined, through partnerships, working together.
And it’s an honor for me to join you and Mayor Booker and Jim Gavin as leaders on this initiative, an initiative that has been important to me. As you mentioned, as a heart surgeon, when I’ve dedicated my professional healing aspects of my life to dealing with heart disease, which has a direct causal relationship to obesity, and as a former public official and current public health advocate, this is a huge problem to individuals, their individual lives, to children, and to our health care system broadly in terms of the costs that it imposes.
It is reversible. We know that obesity is associated with more chronic conditions than smoking or excessive drinking. Data suggests that health care costs of obese adults exceed the health care costs by other healthier people by 91 percent -- almost a doubling in health care costs; clearly an issue, as we look ahead in terms of health care costs and the impact they have on individuals and the fiscal state of our country.
The obese patients consume more health care resources, and we see this across the entire continuum of health care, from hospitals to ambulatory care centers to pharmacists.
The problem is increasing, so it’s not a static problem. So our first goal is going to be flatten it out and then eliminate it over a generation. The United States is expected to spend over $340 billion on health care costs attributable to obesity just 10 years from now -- 10 years from today. That’s a cost of about $1,425 per person -- four times what it is today. Today it’s about $361.
Just by holding the current rate of obesity steady, we can save $55 billion in projected health care costs, much of which could be passed along to the American taxpayer, or invested in other aspects of quality of life issues.
And lastly I just thought I'd mention -- because this -- and I say this as a physician, as someone who has dealt regularly with obesity in my own practice -- this is an issue about individuals, as well -- maybe even predominantly individuals; their dignity, the stigma, the self-esteem, the prejudice that’s associated with being overweight today.
You know, I made this whole fight against childhood obesity a priority, as the First Lady mentioned, during my days in the Senate, championing such legislation as the Childhood Obesity Reduction Act. And I think, as the First Lady says, this is not going to predominantly be a government solution. It’s going to be partnerships with businesses and families and parents and children and philanthropists and organizations and foundations all working together.
I’ve extended my work in the Senate, since I’ve been out of the Senate, and focusing on kids -- more recently through efforts to provide simple things like athletic shoes to children in Tennessee and indeed in the developing world.
So the challenge is achievable, but only through this broad-based participation. And as I think both Mayor Booker and I demonstrate on the surface, it’s something we all know that it is no one political party or sector that can solve this problem.
It’s important that this issue not get swept up in all the partisan politics of Washington. The fact that Mayor Booker and I are outside of Washington mean in part our responsibility to join the First Lady as we get the message out across the country. But it is clearly a target that we all strive together and address in these partnerships in working in public and private sectors together. We need to get out of Washington, take this message to people all across the country. And both Mayor Booker and I have expressed our willingness not just to be names on the masthead, even though we’re called honorary vice chairs of the partnership, but to be on the ground to work it, to travel, to give voice, to study it, and to work with the Foundation.
So I enthusiastically join the First Lady and the partnership and this cause, and I truly believe that together we can end this epidemic within a generation.
So thank you, Mrs. Obama, and I will turn it over to Mayor Booker.
MAYOR BOOKER: Hey. It’s so fantastic to be on this call, and I’m deeply grateful for my partner who just spoke, Senator Frist, who has been an inspiration to me on many levels for quite some time. Dr. Gavin, who will speak next, is just, again, is a great relationship for me personally to make through this partnership. And exciting things are going to happen by, I believe, the leadership that we’re bringing together.
But more importantly, we can’t lose focus about what this is about. This is about young people. This is about our families. It’s about our neighborhoods. It’s about our communities. Those are the fundamental building blocks for America. And what we are seeing here on the local level, what we all know, is that this is an epidemic problem within our nation, and we see it in urban areas in particular.
And it’s very difficult, as I deal with many children every day, to see the impact that obesity has on self-esteem, self-confidence, the kids’ prides in themselves, kids’ love of themselves. And I tell you, I know more than anything that if our children don’t love themselves, don’t have pride in themselves, we can’t ask them to love their neighborhoods, their communities, their cities, or for their nation.
And we see that not only is it hurting those seminal parts of our very being and our soul, but it means decreased academic performance, it means a loss of productivity. We even see connections between obesity and violence.
And so we know ultimately that it’s about our children, but as the great American writer James Baldwin said, children are never good at listening to their elders, but they never fail to imitate them. And so we as adults within communities and within families and neighborhoods and cities really have to start setting examples, being the role model, doing more -- but empowering. This is not about finger pointing to what families aren’t doing; it’s about creating strong communities that nurture the kind of outcomes and habits and cultural norms that we can indeed enjoy and celebrate and create what’s important.
And so we know in Newark and in cities all across America that there are families that don’t let their children play because there’s no safe places to play, no green spaces to play. They want to keep their kids in the house for the basic human need of security. We also know that there are no healthy food options for many families, either at the schools that they send their kids to, or no healthy options even because they don’t have access to supermarkets or places with even green vegetables.
Now, these are challenges and problems, but we also know that all around America there are activists and innovators and concerned citizens who are trying to find solutions, and indeed showing and demonstrating ways to make a difference.
Here in Newark we’re trying to do it in many different ways, not only by working in partnership with the private sector in building parks, but also creating fun activities that get people out of their homes into the communities. Last year we started a triathlon that was about getting people to bike ride to all the city’s different recreation centers so that they could rediscover those gyms that we actually already have in our community. We’re experimenting with urban gardens and many other things.
And that to me is the beauty of our nation. We have islands of excellence everywhere in America, and what this partnership is about is growing those islands of excellence into hemispheres of hope. I was taught by my mother that African wisdom that spider webs united could tie up a lion. And this is why I’m just so honored and humbled that the First Lady would choose to involve me in this because she -- by doing this call to our country’s consciousness, to our country’s awareness for our country to come together, she really is weaving together a lot of those great leaders and activists and foundations and businesses to try to create truly a unified nation around the issues that we all indeed agree upon, which is the welfare and future of our children.
So I’m looking forward to celebrating the success of our efforts to be not just honorary but ornery at times in trying to push hard to get change to happen. I’m looking forward to joining with other leaders, and the First Lady has already done a great job at shining the light on many of my partner mayors around the country, whether it’s Chip Johnson from Hernando, Mississippi, or Joseph Curtatone from Somerville, Massachusetts. We’re going to really be making a clarion call to people all around this country to come together.
And the beautiful thing about this is by finding those innovations that are going on in other neighborhoods, I’m a big believer and I know from my parents’ upbringing that real social change in America around any issue always happens from the grassroots up. And by shining the light of the First Lady and our national partners and players on those local activities, we not only will be able to celebrate them but we will be able to study them, learn from them, figure out how to grow them.
So I just want to again thank the (inaudible) of coming together, the vision of our First Lady. This is something that we can do, that we must do, and I believe with this auspicious start that we will do. Thank you.
DR. GAVIN: This is Jim Gavin. And on behalf of the Partnership for a Healthier America Board of Directors, I want to thank the First Lady, Senator Frist, and Mayor Booker for the important support that they bring to this partnership. We are honored to have this commitment and their leadership from these very special individuals as we chart a new course for this private/public effort.
By setting the first national target for childhood obesity, the First Lady has taken an important step to move the nation towards addressing one of the greatest dangers facing our children today.
Now, along with our honorary chair and vice chairs from whom you’ve heard, we are also pleased to publicly present the first board of directors of the partnership. The board is a diverse and powerful group of stakeholders who are committed to providing real leadership on this issue.
Now, the partnership has been organized by the collective vision of the organization that has already been mentioned by the First Lady in her remarks. You can expect to be hearing a lot from this new organization as we begin to mobilize for action around this important initiative.
With the First Lady’s support, we are at a (inaudible) to address these challenges from childhood obesity. Now, many of us have been fighting the battle against childhood obesity for decades. But some in our country are just (inaudible) to the seriousness of this obesity epidemic where one in three of our children are overweight or obese.
The rates of childhood obesity have doubled in the last 10 years, has increased fourfold in the last 40 years, and as many as one in every three of our children will develop diabetes or high blood pressure in their lifetime. It’s a very serious issue.
With the “Let’s Move” and the grassroots pressures that are emerging, large corporations, non-profits and public institutions are feeling the pressure to respond to the crisis.
Now, our goal is to complement and accelerate efforts that are already underway across America to address the important issues. In addition to the work of cities like Newark, state governments as well have enacted legislation or implemented programs to improve the nutritional quality of the lunches and snacks provided in schools and in childcare settings, or to strengthen physical education class. Other private sector and private foundation initiatives have focused on comprehensive multi-step approaches and environmental factors that make neighborhoods more conducive to healthy eating and regular physical activity.
There are a lot of community intervention, such as those funded by the Healthy Eating Active Living Convergence Partnership, that includes increasing access to park, sidewalks and fresh groceries, including (inaudible) and educating caretakers of children about nutrition.
As a doable, independent, nonpartisan foundation, the Partnership for a Healthier America -- PHA, as we will refer to it in shorthand -- will (inaudible) in the large ecosystem of communities, state, and nationally based efforts in that it will focus not only on identifying the solutions to this challenge, but also on creating new norms across all sectors and levels of our society.
PHA does not seek to compete with (inaudible) or grant-making foundations who are doing important work of their own around these issues, but rather will serve to facilitate partnerships with meaningful and scalable programs at the community, state and national levels and lift up and help scale and replicate their success. It will do so by convening private, public and non-profit sector members to facilitate meaningful and substantial commitments and hold them accountable by measuring their impact.
Now, as you heard from the First Lady, we have given ourselves an aggressive mandate and we expect to meet it. Over the next year, and throughout the lifetime of the foundation, you can expect us to negotiate directly with those organizations and individuals most equipped to bring measurable impact to the First Lady’s target, even some CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, national bank leaders, and the leading non-profits.
But we also want to celebrate local community heroes and grassroots leaders whose innovating solutions simply lack the resources needed to reach scale. We look forward to hosting our first annual meeting with the First Lady towards the beginning of next year to take stock of our progress and recognize those that have stepped up to this cause, while at the same time encouraging those who haven’t yet joined us to do so in this mission.
Now, we want to encourage that you get more information and updates on our progress by visiting our Web site, www.ahealthieramerica.org. That’s www.ahealthieramerica.org. I’d like to thank all of you for your participation in this exchange today, for your help and for your interest in this critically important health issue for our nation. Thank you and goodbye.
11:28 A.M. EDT