Remarks by the First Lady at the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Inaugural Building a Healthier Future Summit

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Release Time: 

For Immediate Release

Washington, D.C.

11:52 A.M. EST 

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you.  Thank you, everyone.  Please, please.  (Applause.)  Well, thank you all so much.  Please, please, rest yourselves.  I understand you’ve been working hard over these last couple of days.  (Laughter.)

It is such a tremendous pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you today.  I want to start by thanking Kayla, not just for that very kind introduction, but for her work.  I mean, we should all be like Kayla, right?  That’s what we’re trying to do.  Kayla, we are so proud of you.  Let’s give Kayla a wonderful round of applause.  (Applause.)

That’s why we’re all here, right?  It’s because of Kayla.

I also want to recognize Senator Bill Frist, Mayor Corey Booker, who have just been phenomenal Partnership for a Healthier America co-chairs.  They’ve been terrific.

I also have to recognize my dear friend, Jim Gavin, who’s the chair of the board, as well as Larry Soler, the CEO.  They have just been tremendous.

PHA is truly a driving force behind so much of the progress that we’ve made on behalf of our children.  And I am thrilled about the commitments they’ve announced today from organizations like the YMCA, Hyatt Hotels and so many others.  So I also want us to take some time to give all of them a round of applause.  (Applause.)

And finally, I want to thank all of you -– all of you here today:  the advocates, the activists, the business leaders and the experts who have been leading the charge for years to help our kids lead healthier lives. 

And I know that what you all do isn’t easy.  And I have to be honest, when I first decided to focus on the issue of childhood obesity, in the back of my mind I wondered whether it was really possible to make a difference.  I knew the conventional wisdom on the issue -– particularly when it comes to changing how and what our kids eat.

There’s the assumption that kids don’t like healthy food, so why should we bother trying to feed it to them.  There’s the belief that healthy food doesn’t sell so well, so companies will never change the products they offer.  There’s the sense that this problem is so big, and so entrenched, that no matter what we do, we’ll never be able to solve it.

But because of folks like all of you, over the past couple of years, we have begun to see a fundamental change in the conversation in this country about how we feed our kids.  Since we launched “Let’s Move,” folks from every sector of society have been stepping up to help our kids lead healthier lives.

Major food manufacturers are cutting sugar, salt and fat from their products.  Restaurants are revamping kids’ menus and loading them with healthier, fresher options.  Companies like Walgreens, SuperValu, Walmart, Calhoun’s Grocery are committing to build new stores and to sell fresh food in underserved communities all across this country.

Congress passed historic legislation to provide more nutritious school meals to millions of American children.  Our schools are growing gardens all over the place.  Cities and towns are opening farmers markets.  Congregations are holding summer nutrition programs for their kids.  Parents are reading those food labels, and they’re rethinking the meals and the snacks that they serve their kids.

So while we still have a long way to go, we have seen so much good progress.  We’ve begun to have an impact on how, and what, our kids are eating every single day.  And that is so important.  It’s so important.

But it’s not enough.  There is still more to do.  Because we all know that the problem isn’t just what’s happening at meal time or at snack time.  It’s also about how our kids are spending the rest of their time each and every day.

It’s about how active our kids are.  And that’s what I want to talk about today.  I want to talk about the crisis of inactivity that we see among our kids, and what each of us can do to start solving that problem. 

The fact is that, today, we may well be raising the most sedentary generation of kids in the history of this country.  Kids today reportedly spend an average of seven and a half hours a day watching TV, playing with cell phones, computer games, video games.  Only one-quarter of kids play outside each day — one-quarter of our kids play outside.  And that’s compared to three-quarters of kids just a generation ago.  And only 18 percent of high school students get the recommended one hour of physical activity a day.

And all of us know, we being of a certain generation, that it wasn’t always like this.  Many of you probably grew up just like I did.  Back then — way back then, way before Kayla was even a thought in anybody’s eye — (laughter) — remember how we would walk to school every day?  You would get to school and then you’d run around the playground before the bell rang.  You’d get to school early just to run around before the bell rang.

Then just a couple of hours later, we were back outside for recess — more running around.  And then after lunch, we had another recess, and then all of us, we all had regular P.E. classes.  And then once you got out of school, if you didn’t have homework, we spent hours riding bikes, jumping rope, playing ball, playing tag.  And you didn’t come home until dinner was ready.  And if your mother was anything like mine, she’d send you right back out.  (Laughter.)

Back then, kids were constantly in motion.  We rarely went more than a few hours without engaging in some kind of heart-pounding, sweat-inducing, active play. 

And that’s an important word:  play.  

Back then, play meant physical activity.  Sitting around watching TV didn’t count as playing.  Lounging around the house with your friends was not playing.  Back then, playing actually meant moving your body.

And today, we have an entirely different idea of what constitutes “play.”  These days, for many kids, play has become a fully sedentary activity.  Then urban sprawl and fears about safety often mean the only walking our kids do is out the front door to a bus or a car.

And cuts in recess, gym and sports programs mean a whole lot less running around during the school day.  Only half of our young people in this country have playgrounds or parks, activity centers, walking paths or sidewalks available in their neighborhoods — only half of our kids in this country.

And today, fewer than 4 percent of elementary schools, fewer than 8 percent of middle and junior high schools, and only about 2 percent of high schools even offer daily P.E. classes.  That’s what’s going on.  And with the rise of the Internet and 24/7 cable TV, there is always an opportunity to be entertained by something on a screen. 

Kids today can watch pretty much any show any time they want, day or night.  That wasn’t the case when we were growing up.  You had seven channels.  (Laughter.)  You had about three hours of cartoons and it was over.  (Laughter.)  But all of that is just too hard for kids to resist. 

But the fact is that kids’ bodies simply are not built for that kind of sedentary lifestyle.  For them, physical activity is critical.  We all know that.  It’s critical for building healthy bones and muscles.  It’s critical for maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol.  And it’s critical for controlling anxiety and stress.  And when our kids aren’t active, we see the results in rising obesity and conditions like diabetes that used to only be seen in adults, and conditions that we all know are costly to treat. 

We see it in our schools, where overweight and obese kids are more likely to miss more than two weeks of school during an academic year.  And we know that when kids stay home from school, what does that mean?  Oftentimes parents stay home from work.  And for those of you from the business world, you know that all those missed days can really have an impact on your bottom line.  There’s also evidence that physical activity may affect academic performance. 

And believe it or not, we even see the effects in our military.  And I know that Bill Frist was here and he talked a bit about this as well, but right now, nearly 27 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds are too overweight to serve in our military.  And at one Army base that I visited, I learned that the recruits they see today are kids who were born back when public schools across the country started cutting physical education and sports.  These are the kids who are the product of those cuts. 

So after years of inactivity and poor nutrition, many are overweight, many are out of shape, and they’re more likely to injure themselves in basic training.  This is what the General told me.  So the Army is now spending millions of additional dollars a year in medical and dental costs just to get trainees combat-ready. 

So when we’re talking about getting kids running around and playing again, it is important to understand that this isn’t just about fun and games.  This isn’t a joke.  It’s about their health.  It’s about their success in school.  It’s about our economy.  It’s about our national security.

But as parents — and I know there are many parents in this room — we don’t need statistics to tell us that something is wrong.  We know our kids aren’t as active as they should be.  And if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that we bear some responsibility for that.  Because so many parents today are juggling a million things at once.

They’re working full-time while raising kids.  Many are caring for aging parents.  Many are struggling to just pay the bills.  And much as we all hate to admit it, sometimes, on those Saturday afternoons when the kids are complaining that they’re bored, sometimes it’s just easier to give them permission to go watch TV, right?  I did that last weekend.  (Laughter.)  And we know that’s not good. 

We know we need to do things differently — not just as parents, but as a society.  We as a society need to redefine for our kids what play is.  We as a society need to make physical activity a part of our kids’ daily lives again, and we need to do it in a way that is easy, affordable and fun — not just for kids but for parents.  

And when I say “we as a society,” I mean that every single one of us has a role to play.  Because we know that the solution on this one is not going to come because government is going to tell people what to do.  It’s about each of us taking responsibility, making a difference however we can. 

So today, I want to call on all of you, and folks all across the country, to just step back and ask yourselves, “What more can I do to help our kids lead more active and healthy lives?”  I want you to ask yourselves what you can do to invest, or to innovate, or to inspire our kids to get out there and play again.

And when I say invest, I don’t just mean money.  I also mean time, and energy, and passion.  I’m talking about schools that have started running clubs and fitness competitions; schools that are working physical activity into classes ranging from music to math.  I’m talking about communities keeping the high school gym open on weekends or organizing volunteers to refurbish parks and playgrounds. 

I’m talking about faith leaders who are starting exercise ministries for families in their congregations.  I’m talking about businesses sponsoring youth sports leagues and helping their employees get active.  Because we know that when mom or dad starts getting in shape at work, that can have an impact on other members of the family at home.

And when I say innovate, I’m talking about new ideas and new technologies.  I’m talking about developing new toys that require active play; new video games that get kids moving their entire bodies, not just their thumbs, right?  New playground equipment that gets kids running and jumping and climbing. 

And finally, when I say inspire, I’m talking about all of us serving as role models for our kids — all of us.  Our pediatricians urging kids to keep active; educators teaching kids about nutrition; folks in the sports, media and entertainment industries promoting physical activity, and  making playing cool again — making playing cool again.

I want to emphasize that last point — the importance of really promoting physical activity to our kids.  Think for a minute of all the things we get our kids to do each day.  It shouldn’t be so hard to get them to run around and play, right?  This isn’t forcing them to eat their vegetables.  (Laughter.)  It’s getting them to go out there and have fun.  

And now, I just want to divert a little bit because I now have a quick video for you — I don’t do this a lot — to help illustrate my point.  So take it away. 

(The video is played.)

That’s Bishop Tutu.  (Laughter.)

That’s the First Lady of Mexico.  (Laughter.)

Big-time rush.  (Laughter.)  Very cute.  (Laughter and applause.)

So as you can see, I’m pretty much willing to make a complete fool out of myself to get our kids moving.  (Laughter.)  But there is a method to my madness.  There’s a reason why I’ve been out there jumping rope and hula hooping and dancing to Beyoncé, whatever it takes.  (Laughter.)  It’s because I want kids to see that there are all kinds of ways to be active.  And if I can do it, anybody can do it. 

I want them to understand that being active can be fun, because we know that we as adults and as parents, we are our kids’ first and best role models.  As much as they don’t act like they’re listening to us, they really are.  And we can’t tell them to run around outside when we’re lying on the couch watching TV.  So we need to get ourselves active and we need to take our kids with us.

And we don’t need any kind of fancy equipment or uniforms.  That’s the other point.  It can be as simple as going for a walk together or just turning on the radio and dancing around in the living room.  And ultimately, that’s what gives me such hope around this issue, the fact that at this very moment, each of us — each of us already has the power to start solving this problem for ourselves in our own homes, in our own communities, without spending a single dime. 

And if we can get major grocery chains to build supermarkets in underserved neighborhoods, if we can get major restaurant chains to improve their menus and food manufacturers to offer better choices, then I am confident that we can get our kids up and playing just a little bit more.  I know this is something we can do, because the truth is that kids want to be active.  They want it so desperately from the time they’re little.  They want to move.  They want to explore.  They want to run and skip and learn new skills. 

So it’s up to all of us to tap into that innate desire for active play.  And that’s exactly what we’ll be doing in the coming months through “Let’s Move” and the Partnership for a Healthier America.  We will be offering wonderful new tools and information for parents to figure out how they can start getting their kids on track.  We’ll continue promoting our President’s Active Lifestyle Award to help kids to take charge and build healthy habits.  And so far, more than 1 million kids have earned this award by exercising an hour a day, five days a week for six consecutive weeks.

We’re going to keep working with our mayors to get them to improve access to play in their communities.  We’re going to keep working with schools to increase activity during the day, during the school day.  We’re going to work with sports leagues and celebrities and businesses to inspire our kids to get active, and so much more.

Every step we take can make such a difference in our kids’ lives.  And I have the good fortune of seeing that week after week in the letters that I get.  I get so many letters from kids all across the country who are excited about “Let’s Move” and they’re eager to share their stories.

One of those letters that really stood out for me came from a young woman named Samantha.  And Samantha is 15 years old and, for a long time, she shared with me that she struggled with her weight.  She was diagnosed with asthma and was in danger of developing diabetes.  But finally, Samantha took charge and she reached out to an adult that she trusted.  It happened to be her health teacher.  And together, she shared with me how they developed a plan to help Samantha get healthy. 

And she told me that she started small.  She started watching what she ate.  She joined a softball team and a cardio club at her school.  And she said that as she got healthier, she gained more confidence.  And in her letter, she told me that she’s been so successful that other people have actually asked her to help them get fit and healthy. 

And all it took for Samantha was one caring adult and a couple of opportunities for active play, and this young woman was able to regain control of her health.  So just imagine if we could have that kind of impact in every school and every community in America.  And just imagine how many of our kids we could help.  Imagine how many lives we would transform.

And like anything, this is not going to be easy and it will not happen overnight.  This is going to be an ongoing process, one that will unfold over generations.  And that is why the Partnership for a Healthier America is so critical.  It has just been at the core of everything we do.   

You see, I’m not going to be here forever and neither are any of you.  And I want to make sure that the work that we’ve begun and the progress we’ve made will continue not just for the length of this administration, but until the problem is solved.  And that is PHA’s mission.

And if we succeed, we won’t just raise this generation of children to be healthier adults.  You see, what you all understand is that when we instill healthy habits in our kids today, when we teach them to eat well and stay active today, that affects how they’ll raise their own children years from now.  That affects the habits that they’ll teach them and the food they’ll feed them and how healthy all of our grandkids will be.  And that can continue on throughout the generations.
That’s what we’re doing here.  We’re impacting generations.  That is the kind of impact we can have, one that will last long after all of us are gone.  So that’s why I keep traveling around the country, shining a spotlight on programs that are making a difference for our kids.  And as you saw in that video, I will try just about anything to inspire kids to be active.  And I am looking for real partners in that effort, I really am.

So if any of you come up with good ideas and you can translate them into effective programs, I will be there to dance, to jump, to throw, to kick — whatever you can imagine as long as it passes security approval.  (Laughter.)  But I will be there with you to help highlight that work.

And together, I am confident that we will solve this problem.  You see, I may have started out my remarks today talking about the doubts I had when we first launched “Let’s Move.”  But I think the last couple of years have shown us that we live in a country where we care deeply about our kids.  We do, and that is such a beautiful thing to see.   

And when we educate people about this issue, they want to step up.  They want to make a difference.  And if you have any doubts about that, if any of you have any doubts about what we as a country can accomplish when we really put our minds to it just look at what we’ve done these past couple of years.  Just look at what all of you have done.  Just look around this room at the leaders from all across the country, from every sector of society.  We couldn’t have imagined this room would exist today just a year ago.  

We still have a long way to go, yes.  But all of you and all that you’ve done are a testament to what we can achieve with enough passion, determination and inspiration and a little imagination.  So I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart.  Let’s keep going.  Let’s keep moving.  Let’s keep moving forward.  I am so proud of the work that all of you have done.  And I truly look forward to all that we’re going to accomplish in the months and years ahead.

Congratulations.  Congratulations, PHA.  Congratulations to all of you.  Thank you all and God bless.

12:19 P.M. EST

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