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Michelle Obama promises childhood obesity plan

Michelle Obama addressed the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington. (Cliff Owen -- AP)

In another sign that Michelle Obama is making healthful eating by children her signature issue, the first lady promised to outline a "major initiative on childhood obesity that will mobilize the combined resources of the federal government" to work with cities, foundations, businesses and non-profits.

The goals of the initiative include increasing the number of USDA-accredited "healthy schools," where children have access to nutritious food; providing more opportunities for kids to be physically active; and ensuring that healthful food is available in low-income neighborhoods.

"The idea here is very simple: to put in place commonsense initiatives and solutions that empower families and communities to make healthy decisions for their kids," Obama told the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington on Wednesday.

Obama chose to make the announcement of the announcement (this is how things roll in Washington) to mayors because they play a unique role in these issues, said Obama's policy director, Jocelyn Frye. The initiative has been in the works, she added, since Obama planted the White House garden last spring. In the fall, Obama met with the Domestic Policy Council and members of the cabinet to talk about ways to coordinate federal efforts.

"The garden was always a vehicle to talk about healthy eating. In the long term, the goal is to work on larger issues such as childhood obesity," Frye said.

One-third of American children today are overweight or obese. One-third of children are projected to suffer from Type-2 diabetes. In the African American and Latino communities, that number reaches 50 percent.

In her speech, Obama reiterated the now familiar storyline of how she, as a busy, working mom, struggled to find ways to feed her family healthful meals. ("I didn't always live in the White House," she said.) But she also underlined the complexity of helping families to make better choices, especially in tough economic times. Families, for example, might not have the money to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables or the time to cook a meal at home. City governments already are making wrenching trade-offs to balance their budgets.

"There are some people who might ask you: 'How on earth can you go spend money on something like healthy school lunches when we've got overcrowded classrooms and outdated textbooks to worry about?' " she said. "Or, 'How can you build parks or sidewalks or bike paths when we can barely afford to keep the community health center open?' "

"These are fair questions, but … they're really false choices. We’ve all heard from teachers and principals that if kids don’t have the nutrition they need to stay alert and focused in class, even the best textbooks in the world aren’t going to help them learn. And we’ve heard from doctors and public health officials that if they don’t have safe places to play right now, then a few years from now, that community health center will be even more crowded and even more of a strain on your budget," she said.

Obama highlighted several municipal programs that are already working. In Arlington, Texas, Mayor Robert Cluck hands out pedometers to children at the end of the school year so they can count their steps over the summer vacation. In Oklahoma City, Mayor Mick Cornett challenged citizens to lose 1 million pounds and created a Web site, This City Is Going on a Diet, where people could track their weight loss and share stories and tips.

Cornett himself lost 40 pounds to reach his target weight. Over the last two years, 40,000 people in Oklahoma City have signed up and they've lost more than 500,000 pounds.

"This isn't something that will be fixed by just a bill in Congress or an executive order from the President," she said. "Ultimately, it's going to take all of us."

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  January 20, 2010; 6:00 PM ET
Categories:  Sustainable Food  | Tags: Jane Black, Michelle Obama  
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Finally someone is talking about some grassroots action on obesity - no more fancy-schmancy websites with surveys & tips & loads of rah-rah B.S.

There are solutions to this problem

But they require less talk & more action

Posted by: synergymindandbody | January 20, 2010 10:54 PM | Report abuse

Jane Black writes, "We’ve all heard from teachers and principals that if kids don’t have the nutrition they need to stay alert and focused in class, even the best textbooks in the world aren’t going to help them learn." So they say that, really? At our public elementary school the teachers use candy as incentives, pass out popsicles on the playground and reward kids with pizza and chips or ice cream sundae parties. I came in to read a story to the first graders and twice we were interrupted by a knock on the door: students from other classes offering the teacher an extra birthday cupcake.

Why let this go on? Are the teachers and administrators just trying to feed their own sweet tooth? How can you teach nutrition and not practice what you preach? How can you educate kids on sugar highs? How about giving students extra recess time, a fancy pencil or something else worthwhile for rewards and celebrations? Classmates: have your birthday cake at home, please--not sharing it on teacher's time.

It's harder for moms and dads to steer our own children toward healthy food when they get a taste of all manner of junk food handed to them at school, and frequently. Principals need to step in to change this junk-food-centric school culture.

Posted by: anonymousid | January 22, 2010 10:56 AM | Report abuse

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