Michelle Obama

Let's Move Kick Off Event- Feb. 9, 2010

Michelle Obama
February 09, 2010
Let's Move Kick Off
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Wow! Thank you, everyone. Thank you so much.

It is a thrill to have you all here in my home. And I want to thank Tammy. I could just start crying. You're so sweet, and so smart. You've gotten so tall! You're on your game, girl! Thank you for that wonderful introduction and for all your outstanding work.

I mean, it's important, Tammy, for you to know how much you and your classmates have all played a role in where we are today. Look at this room! Look at all of these important people with cameras and lights. And it's because of what you helped me start at the White House garden. So I am so proud of you all. And I hope you're doing well in sixth grade. I know it gets harder, work is tougher, but, you know, you can do it.

I want to also recognize the cabinet members here. Some of my good friends and partners in crime, secretaries Vilsack, Sebelius, Duncan, Salazar, Donovan -- did I leave anybody -- Solis, you, as well as Surgeon General Benjamin who has just been a tremendous support in this. I want to thank them all for their excellent work, their leadership. You all are doing a phenomenal job and again we won't be able to do this without you. I also want to thank some of our other guests, Senator Harkin and Gillibrand, it is good to see you all. Thank you for your leadership. Representatives Delauro, Christensen and Fudge, thank you for being here and the work that you have done to get us to this point.

I want to thank Tiki GMC. Pretty sharp. Good on your feet. (laughter) Yeah, yeah, he's still upset because he is shorter than me. It’s okay, Tiki. (laughter) (applause)

That is the first thing he said he was physically, like, I didn't know you were so tall! It's like, yeah, I know, I know. It's so sweet. But thank you. Thank you for your work, your passion. Thank you for braving the weather to be here. Glad to have you on board.

Dr. Judith Palfrey, thank you for your wonderful work. As well as Will Allen, wonderful words, and we're going to get on it. Mayors Johnston and Curtatone, you guys are doing a terrific job and you represent all of what we can do together. Thank you so much for being here.

And thank you all for coming today and braving this weather and risking getting stuck here. Thank you for the work that you do every day to help our kid’s lead active and healthy lives. And one final congratulations is in order. I hear that the Watkins Hornets -- are some of the Hornets here? All right. Stand up, because I know you're bored. (applause)

They are barely hanging in. But we want you here because this is really about all of you. We have got other kids, but these guys are the national football champions, right? (applause)

Congratulations, guys. You guys can sit. We're almost done. Hang in there! Just think, you could be in school! (laughter)

But we're all here today because we care deeply about the health and well-being of not just these kids up here, but for all kids like them all across the country. And clearly, we're determined to finally take on one of the most serious threats to their future and that's the epidemic of childhood obesity in America today. And obviously it's an issue of great concern to me not just as a First Lady but as a mother.

And as Tiki said, often we talk about this issue we begin by siting sobering statistics like the ones we have heard today. And we can't say it enough because we have to drill this in, that over the past three decades childhood obesity rates in this country have tripled.

That nearly one-third of children in America are now overweight or obese. That's one in three of our children.

But the truth is that these numbers don't paint the full picture and it's important to say this. The word overweight and obese, those words don't tell the full story. Because this isn't about inches and pounds. And it's not about how our kids look. It has nothing to do with that. It's about how our kids feel. And it's about how they feel about themselves.

It's about the impact that we're seeing that this issue is having on every aspect of their lives. Pediatricians like Dr. Palfrey all over this country are seeing kids with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, more and more kids with Type II diabetes and as we all know that used to only be a disease of adults.

Our teachers, talking to a lot of them they are telling me how they are seeing the bullying, the teasing. Our school counselors see the depression and the low self-esteem. Coaches are seeing kids struggling to keep up. Or worse yet, sitting on the sidelines unable to engage. Our military leaders report that obesity is now one of the most common disqualifiers for military service. Economic experts tell us that we are spending outrageous amounts of money treating obesity-related conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. And then public health experts, as Tiki said, tell us that the current generation is actually on track to having a shorter life-span than their parents.

And none of us wants this future for our kids and none of us wants this future for our country. So instead of just talking about this problem and worrying and wringing our hands, it's time for to us get going and do something about this. We have to act. So let's move! Let's get this done.

Let's move to get families and communities together to make healthy decisions for their kids. Let's move to bring together our governors and our mayors, doctors and nurses, businesses, community groups, educators, athletes, moms, dads, you know it together to tackle the challenge once and for all and that's why we're here today. To launch this wonderful new campaign called Let's move! Let's hear it. Let's move! (applause)

Let's move is a campaign that's going to rally our nation to achieve a single, very ambitious goal: And that's to solve the problem of childhood obesity in a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight. But to get where we want to go, it's important for to us first understand how we got here. So I'm going to ask all the grown-ups in the room to just close your eyes for a moment and think back.

Think back to the time when we were all kids, as Tiki did, he's there, causing trouble. No? Like many of you, when I was young we walked to school every day, rain or shine. And in Chicago it was in the wind, sleet, snow and hail, we were out there.

You remember how at school we had to have recess? Had to have it. You had to have gym. We spent hours running around outside when school got out. You couldn't even go inside until it was time to dinner -- for dinner.

And then in so many households we'd gather around the table for dinner as a family and in my household and many there was one simple rule: You ate what was on your plate good, bad or ugly. Kids had absolutely no say in what they fell like eating. If you didn't like it, you were welcome to go to bed hungry.

And back then fast food was a treat. It was something that happened occasionally. It was a big treat for us. And dessert was mainly a Sunday affair. And in my home we weren't rich, the foods weren't fancy. But there was always a vegetable on the plate. And we managed to lead pretty healthy lives. But many kids today aren't so fortunate.

Urban sprawl and fears about safety often mean the only walking our kids do was out the front door to a bus or a car. And then cuts in recess and gym means a lot less running around for our kid s during the day. School day. And lunchtime may mean a school lunch heavy on calories and fat. And for many kids those afternoons spent riding bikes and playing ball until dusk have been replaced by afternoons inside with the TV on and Internet, video games.

And these days with parents working so hard, longer hours, some cases two jobs, they just don't have the time for those family dinners. And with the price of fruits and vegetables rising 50 percent higher than overall food costs over the past two decades, a lot of times they don't have the money, or they don't have the supermarket in their community so their best option for dinner is something from the shelf of the local convenience store or gas station. So this is where we are.

Many parents desperate want to do the right thing but they feel like the deck is stacked against them. They know their kids’ health is their responsibility but they feel like it's completely out of their control. And they're bombarded by contradictory information at every turn. They don't know what to believe or who to believe. And this leads to a lot of guilt and anxiety. And a sense that no matter what they do it's not going to be right and it's not going to be enough. And I know what that feels like because I have been there.

Look, I live in a wonderful house since today I am blessed with more help and support than I could have ever imagined but I haven't always lived in the White House and it wasn't that long ago that I was a working mom. I have shared this story. Struggling to balance meetings,

deadlines, soccer and ballet, and there were plenty of nights when you got home so tired and hungry that you just wanted to get through the drive-through because it was quick and it was cheap. Or there were the times you throw in that less-healthy microwave option because it was easy.

And one day my pediatrician, thankfully, was someone who was already doing what the American Academy is going to do, pulled me aside and told me you might want to think about doing things a little bit differently. And for me that was my moment of truth.

It was a wake-up call that I was in fact the one in charge even if it didn't always feel that way. And today, it's time for a moment of truth for our nation. It's time for a wake-up call for all of us. It's time for us to be really honest with ourselves about how we got here. Because the truth is our kids didn't do this to themselves.

Our kids don't decide what is served to them at school or whether there is time for gym or recess. Our kids don't choose to make food products with tons of sugar and sodium and super-sized portions. And then to have those products marketed to them everywhere they turn. And no matter how much they beg for pizza, fries and candy, ultimately they are not and should not be the ones calling the shots at dinnertime. We're in charge. We make these decisions.

But fortunately that's the good news here. Because, if we're the ones that make the decisions then we can decide to solve this problem. And when I say we, I'm not just talking about folks in Washington. This is not about politics. There is nothing democratic or bipartisan, liberal or conservative about doing what's best for our kids.

And I haven't spoken to one expert about this issue who has said that the solution is having government tell people what to do. Instead I am talking about what we all can do. I am talking about common sense steps we can take in our families and communities to help our kids lead active, healthy lives.

And this isn't about turning the clock back to when we were kids or preparing five course meals from scratch every night. No one has the time for that. And it is not about being one hundred percent perfect one hundred percent of the time because, Lord knows, I'm not. There is a place in this life for cookies and ice cream and burgers and fries that is a part of the fun of childhood.

Often it is just about balance. It's about really small changes that can add up like walking to school when you can. Replacing soda with water or skim milk. Trimming portion sizes just a little. Things like this could mean the difference between being healthy and fit or not.

And there is no one-size-fits-all solution here. Instead, it's about families making manageable changes that fit with their schedules and their budgets and their needs and tastes and realities. And it's about communities working to support these efforts.

Mayors like Mayor Johnston and Curtatone who are billing sidewalks and parks and community gardens. It's about athletes and role models like Tiki who are building playgrounds to help kids stay active. Community leaders like Will Allen who are bringing farmer's markets to

underserved areas and companies like the food industry leaders who came together last fall and acknowledged their responsibility to be part of this solution.

But there is so much more that we have to do. And that's really the mission of Let's Move! to create this wave of efforts across the country that get to us our goal of solving childhood obesity in a generation. And we kicked off this initiative this morning in my husband's office when he signed a Presidential memorandum establishing the first ever government wide task force on childhood obesity.

And the task force is going to be comprised of representatives from key agencies, many of them are here today, and over the next 90 days -- yes, more work for you -- these folks will review every program and policy relating to child nutrition and physical activity.

They're going to develop an action plan to marshal these resources to meet our goal. And to ensure we are continually on track to meet those goals, the task force is going to set some re al concrete benchmarks to measure our progress.

But we can't wait 90 days to get going here and we won't. So let's move right now starting today on a series of initiatives to happy achieve or goal: First, let's move to offer the parents the tools and information they need and they have been asking for to make healthy choices for their kids.

We have been working with the FDA and several manufacturers and retailers to make our food labels more customer friendly so people don't have to spend hours squinting at the words they can't pronounce to figure out whether the food they are buying is healthy or not. In fact, just today, the nation's largest beverage companies announced they'll be taking steps to provide clear, visible information about calories on the front of their products as well as on vending machines and soda fountains.

And this is exactly the kind of vital information parents need to make good choices for their kids. We're also working with the American Academy of Pediatrics supporting their groundbreaking efforts to ensure doctors not only regularly measure children's BMI, but actually write that prescription detailing real steps that parents can take to get their kids healthy and fit.

In addition, we're going to be working with the Walt Disney Company, NBC Universal and Viacom to launch a nationwide public awareness campaign educating parents and children about how to fight childhood obesity.

And we're creating a one-stop-shopping website letsmove.gov. Good name. So with the click of a mouse parents can find helpful tips and step-by-step strategies including healthy recipes, exercise plans and charts that they can use to keep their family's progress on track.

But let's remember that 31 million American children participate in the federal school meals program. And many of these kids consume as many as half of their calories daily at school.

And what we don't want is the situation where parents are taking all the right steps at home and then their kids undo all that work when they go to school with salty, fatty foods in the school cafeteria.

So let's move to get healthier food into our nation's schools. That's the second part of this initiative. We'll start by updating and strengthening the Child Nutrition Act, the law that sets nutrition standards for what our kids eat at school. And we proposed an historic investment of an additional $10 billion over ten years to fund that legislation.

And with this new investment we're going to knock down barriers that keep many families from even participating in school meal programs. In that way we'll add an additional one million students in the first five years alone. We're going to dramatically improve the quality of the food we offer in schools including in-school vending machines. We'll take away some of the empty calories and add more fresh fruits and vegetables and other nutrition options.

We also plan to double the number of schools in the Healthier U.S. School Challenge. This is an innovative program out of the Department of Agriculture that recognizes schools doing the very best work to keep kids healthy. They're already providing healthy school meals, requiring physical education, incorporating nutrition education into their curriculums.

And to help us meet that goal I am thrilled to announce that for the very first time several major school food suppliers have come together and committed to decrease sugar, fat and salt, increase whole grains, and double the fresh produce in the school meals that they serve. (Applause)

And also for the first time, food service workers, along with principals, superintendents, school board members all across this country are all coming together to support these efforts And with all of these commitments we'll be able to reach just about every school child in this country with better information; more nutritious meals and we'll be able to put them on track to a healthier life.

These are major steps. But let's not forget about the rest of the calories our kids consume, the ones they eat outside of school, often at home in their neighborhoods. And when 23.5 million Americans including 6.5 million children live in food deserts, and these are communities without a supermarket, these calories are too often empty ones.

And you can see the areas here, this beautiful map, in dark purple the food deserts. This is the new U.S USDA Food Environ mental Atlas that we're unveiling today. And this atlas maps out everything from diabetes and obesity rates all across the country as well as food deserts. And you can see them mapped out in orange.

This is going to be a very useful tool for parents and for the entire community. So let's move to ensure that all our families have access to healthy affordable food in their communities. That's the third part of this initiative.

Today for the very first time we're making a commitment to completely eliminate food deserts in America and we plan to do that within seven years. Now, we know this is ambitious. That's why it's going to take a serious commitment from both the government and the private sector.

So we're going to invest $400 million a year in a healthy food financing initiative that's going to bring grocery stores to underserved areas and help places like convenience stores carry healthier food options. And this initiative won't just help families eat better. It's going to help, as Will Allen said, create jobs and revitalize neighborhoods all across America.

But we know that eating right is really only part of the battle. Experts recommend that children get 60 minutes of active play every single day. And if this sounds like a lot, consider this: Kids today spend an average of seven and a half hours a day watching TV, playing on the cell phone, computers, and video games. And only a third of high school students get the recommended level of physical activity.

So let's move! And I mean literally, let's move! Let's find new ways for kids to be physically active both in and out of schools. And that's the fourth and final part of this initiative. We're going to increase participation in the President's physical fitness challenge and we'll modernize the challenge so it's not just about how athletic kids are, because not every kid is going to do push-ups and sit-ups, but what's important is how active they are.

We're going to double the number of kids who earn a Presidential Active Lifestyle Award in the next school year. That award recognizes those students who engage in physical activity five days a week for six weeks.

And we have recruited professional athletes from all over the place, a dozen different leagues including the NFL , Major League Baseball, the WMBA, they have all been terrific, they're going to promote these efforts through sports clinics, public service announcements and so much more. So that's just some of what we're going to do today to achieve our goal. And we know it won’t be easy. We won't get there this year. And we probably won't get there this administration.

We know it will take a nationwide movement that continues long after we're gone. That's why today I am so pleased to announce that a new independent foundation has been created to rally and coordinate businesses, nonprofits, state and local governments to keep working until we reach our goal and to measure our progress all along the way.

This foundation is called The Partnership for a Healthier America and it's bringing together some of the leading experts on childhood obesity like the Robert Wood Jansen Foundation. The California Endowment, the Kellogg Foundation, the Brookings Institute and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation which is a partnership between the America Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation. And we expect many others to join in the coming months.

This is unheard of. So this is a pretty serious effort. One that I am very proud of. Proud of everyone for being a part of it. And I know that in these challenging times for our country there will be those who will wonder whether this should really be a priority.

There are going to be many who might view things like healthy school lunches and physical fitness challenges as extras. As things we spring for once we have taken care of all the necessities.

There are going to be those who ask how on earth we can spend money on fruits and vegetables in the cafeterias when many schools don't even have books and teachers. Or how can we afford to build parks and sidewalks when we can't even afford our health care costs.

But when you step back and think about it you realize these are false choices because if kids aren't getting adequate nutrition, even the best books and teachers in the world won't help them get where we want them to be.

And if they don't have safe places to run and play and they wind up with obesity-related conditions, then those health care costs will just keep rising. So, yes, we have to do it all!

We're going to need to make modest but critical investments in the short run but we know that they're going to pay for themselves likely many times over in the long run. Because we won't just be keeping our kids healthy when they're young. We're going to be teaching then habits to keep them healthy their entire lives.

And we saw this first hand with the White House garden when we planted our garden with students like Tammy last year. And one of Tammy's classmates wrote in an essay that her time in the garden (inaudible) about the choices that I have with what I put in my mouth. Isn't that good?

Another wrote with great excitement that he learned that tomatoes are both a fruit and a vegetable and contain vitamins that fight diseases and armed with that knowledge so he declared a tomato is a fruit and is now my best friend. (laughter)

What more could you want? But just think about the ripple effect when kids use this knowledge to make healthy decisions for the rest of their lives. And think about the effect it's going to have on every aspect of their lives, every bit of it.

Whether they can keep up with their classmates on the playground and stay focused in the classroom, whether they have the self-confidence to pursue the careers of their dreams and then the stamina to succeed in those careers, whether they will have the energy and the strength to teach their own kids how to throw a ball and rid e a bike. Whether they will live long enough to see their grandkids grow up. Maybe even their great grandkids, too. See, in the end we know that solving our obesity challenge won't be easy and it certainly won't be quick, but make no mistake about it, this problem can be solved.

This isn't like a disease where we're still waiting for the cure to be discovered. We know the cure for this. This isn't like putting a man on the moon or inventing the Internet. It doesn't take a stroke of genius or feat of technology. We have everything we need right now to help our kids lead healthy lives.

And rarely in the history of this country have we encountered a problem of such magnitude and consequence that is so imminently solvable. So let's move! Let's move to solve it.

Because I don't want our kids to live diminished lives because we failed to step up today. I don't want them looking back decades from now and asking us, why didn't you help us when you had the chance? Why didn't you put us first when it mattered the most? So much of what we all want, as Tiki said, for our kids isn't within our control.

We want them to succeed at everything they do. Everything! We want to protect them from every hardship and spare them from every mistake they'll ever have. But we know we can't do all of that. We can't do that.

What we can do, what is fully within our control, is to give them the very best start in their journeys. What we can do is give them advantages early in life that will stay with them long after we're gone. As President Franklin Roosevelt once put it: "We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future."

This is our obligation. Not just as parents who love our kids, but as citizens who love this country. So let's move! Let's move! Let's get this done. Thank you also much. (applause)

Thank you. I look forward to working with you in the years to come.