I just returned from listening to first lady Michelle Obama speak about childhood obesity--not just childhood obesity in general, but more specifically how this epidemic is hitting the African-American community. She was in Kansas City, MO, today to speak at the NAACP national convention.
“This isn't about how our kids look; it's about how they feel,” Mrs. Obama said. “The African-American community is being hit even harder by this issue.”
One in three children is overweight or obese. Half of African-American children will develop diabetes sometime in their lives, she said.
Mrs. Obama noted that after all the strides made by the NAACP and the civil rights movement, one of the greatest risks today for the future of African-American children is their own health.
“Our kids won't be in any shape to carry on the work of this organization,” she said.
She said that the Obama family didn't always eat healthy foods as much as she would have liked. It took a comment from her daughters' pediatrician that they needed to eat healthier for the first lady to change the eating habits of the family.
That's why she has taken on childhood obesity as her main cause and why she started the Let's Move! initiative. (She will be hosting a live video chat at 10 a.m. EDT Tuesday about Let's Move! on the Let's Move! website.)
She outlined the four parts of Let's Move! The first is to help parents make better food choices for their children. That involves working with food manufacturers and restaurants to better label their foods.
The second component is to improve the food choices offered in school cafeterias and vending machines.
The third component is to get children moving. This means at least 60 minutes a day of exercise, which can come partially through more recess but also through more children biking and walking to school, a difficult prospect, she admits, when children go to schools outside their neighborhoods and when some neighborhoods aren't safe to walk or bike in.
The fourth component is to ensure all families have access to fresh, affordable food where they live. She says that many poor neighborhoods are in food deserts, which is what she calls areas without a single grocery store. Families in these areas end up buying food at gas stations, which typically don't sell fruits and vegetables. Obama is advocating the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, which offers financing to bring grocery stories to these food deserts with the goal of eliminating these deserts within seven years. She said that when grocery stores open in these neighborhoods, they can be successful, and the people in the neighborhoods respond to the healthier food. In fact, African-Americans eat 32 percent more fruits and vegetables with each grocery store that opens in their neighborhood, she said.
“At the end of the day, government can only do so much,” Mrs. Obama said. “This is about families taking responsibility.”
She urged parents to set good examples. You can't tell your kids to go outside and play when you sit all day on the couch watching TV, she added.
Mrs. Obama quoted the statistic that people who are obese have a 40 percent chance that their children will be obese, and that percentage increases to 80 percent if both parents are obese.
She ended by saying that the people who fought for equal rights didn't do it for themselves. They did it for their children. And this fight against obesity isn't for adults.
“We owe it to all those who came before us and to those who come after us to ensure that our children are able to continue this walk,” she said. “If we do this together, we can.”
By the way, these photos are courtesy of Tom V. Hartnett II, who sat next to me during the speech. Thanks, Tom!