Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–March 15, 2011. This morning, First Lady Michelle Obama addressed the Congressional City Conference of the National League of Cities to make the economic case for communities to address childhood obesity. Childhood obesity is not just a health or family issue alone. It is an economic issue that impacts workforces, job growth, and local budgets across the country.
9:59 A.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thanks so much. (Applause.) Thank you all so much. It’s wonderful to be here. It’s great to see you all. Please rest yourselves. You’ve been working hard. Take a seat. (Laughter.) Relax yourselves.
I am just thrilled and honored to be here with all of you for your annual conference. I want to thank Valerie for that very kind introduction and for everything that she does for this administration and for this country.
I also want to recognize President James Mitchell — (applause)– yay — (applause) — as well as Don Borut, Carolyn Coleman, and Leon Andrews for all of their outstanding work for the National League of Cities. Let’s give them a round of applause. (Applause.)
And finally, I’m here because I want to thank all of you for the vitally important work that you’re doing every day in cities and towns all across America.
And that’s why I wanted to be here with all of you today, because you’re the ones who deal with the issues that determine not just the future of our communities, but the future of our country. And I want to talk with you about an issue we face in every city and in every town in America. It’s an issue that has people talking all across the nation, but it’s not always one we think about as a local issue. But, if ignored, it’s an issue that can drastically alter the economic landscape of our cities and towns for generations to come.
And I am obviously talking about the epidemic of childhood obesity. Now, usually, when I talk to groups like this, I start by discussing the statistics: how the incidence of obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years; how nearly one out of every three of our children is overweight or obese; and how small, personal choices like what you serve your kids at the dinner table, or how getting them away from the computer and getting them out into the fresh air can really make the world of difference on this issue. And all of this is absolutely critical if we’re going to start turning the tide on this issue.
But if we’re going to make any progress at all, we must acknowledge that there is a problem, and then we have to do everything in our power to work together to fix it.
So I’d like to spend a moment today really to focus on the economic impact that this issue is having on cities and towns all across America.
Now, everyone in this room is worried about budget shortfalls. I know that. All of you are making wrenching tradeoffs and painful cuts just to stay afloat. I know that’s what’s going on. And I know that the last thing you need during times like these is a new issue on your plates.
But all of you here know something else, and that is this isn’t a new issue at all. You all know better than anyone that childhood obesity is already affecting your communities. It’s already weighing down your budgets. It’s already hampering economic growth.
And here’s how. In the 10 cities with the nation’s highest obesity rates, the direct costs connected with obesity and obesity-related diseases are roughly $50 million per 100,000 residents. And if these 10 cities just cut their obesity rates down to the national average, all added up they combine to save nearly $500 million in healthcare costs each year.
And that’s just the beginning. Childhood obesity is affecting your workforces, too. I mean, studies show that obese children are less healthy and miss far more days of school on average. So for the parents of those kids, that can mean more tardiness, more early departures from work, and higher absenteeism to stay home to care for these kids.
And all that doesn’t just affect businesses that are already located in your communities. It also affects whether new businesses will set up shop in your towns and cities in the first place.
A recent report by the Trust for America’s Health explains why. And this is a quote from that report. They say that, “Businesses are reluctant to locate in areas where the population, particularly the future workforce, is unhealthy.” They go on to say that, “High health care costs and lower productivity are unattractive to employers and investors.”
So make no mistake about it: When we talk about childhood obesity, we’re talking about the workforce that you’re trying to build. We’re talking about the businesses that you’re trying to attract. We’re talking about the budgets that you’re trying to balance each and every day.
That’s why we’re seeing that more and more leaders around the country like you are beginning to see childhood obesity not just as something you get around to doing when you have the money, but as something that could affect whether you have the money in the first place.
And you aren’t the only ones whose priorities have started to shift because of the impact of childhood obesity. Just take the military, for example. Now, when you think about the issues that are keeping four-star generals up at night, childhood obesity is probably not one that comes to mind, right? But from the day we launched “Let’s Move” — and that’s our nationwide campaign to tackle this issue –- high-ranking military leaders have been some of our strongest supporters.
And that’s because right now, today, nearly 27 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds are too overweight to serve in our military. And for many who make the cut, years of inactivity and poor nutrition mean that they often are still overweight, and out of shape, and they’re far more likely to injure themselves in basic training.
So that’s what these generals are telling us that they’re seeing. And so they’re starting to take action — like at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. That’s the largest facility in the country for training Army recruits. And I recently visited there and saw how they’ve started revamping their cafeterias to provide healthier choices for these recruits. They’re also educating these young people on proper nutrition so that they can make good choices about what they eat and so that they’re at the top of their form for training.
So military leaders realized way before many of us that obesity was affecting their core mission. They realized that it was driving up their costs. And then they decided to do something about it.
And it’s similar to what many of you are doing in cities and towns in this country, as well. In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter has worked with state officials, non-profits, and businesses on a Fresh Food Financing Initiative. He’s doing this because he’s not only thinking about today, he’s thinking about tomorrow, as well.
And as he put it, he said, “The foundation of a smart, 21st century workforce starts with the most fundamental building block –- healthy food.”
So what they’re doing in Philly is helping to open supermarkets in underserved areas, so that every neighborhood has access to fresh, affordable food. And I got a chance to see this for myself last year, when I visited one of the new grocery stores in North Philly, an area with nearly 25 percent poverty. And I got a chance to talk to so many people in that neighborhood who were grateful to have this new store in their neighborhood. They were grateful and they were proud.
And for thousands of communities across this country, a new grocery store means a whole lot. It means that people don’t have to depend on whatever packaged food happens to be on the shelves of a local mini-mart. A new grocery store means that fresh fruits and vegetables can find their way to the dinner table a little more often. A new grocery store can do so much more. It can help drive business and create jobs for an entire neighborhood.
In Philadelphia, when these grocery stores started springing up, they began attracting other businesses to the area, as well. And then those new businesses attracted new customers. And all of that is starting to revitalize the struggling neighborhood and neighborhoods throughout the city. One store alone resulted in more than 250 jobs in Philadelphia. And that’s happening all over the city and all over the state. (Applause.)
And all told, this Fresh Food Financing Initiative has created or preserved more than 5,000 Pennsylvania jobs and improve access to healthy food for more than half a million people. And that — that’s real impact. And that’s something you all understand and know. And what many of you already understand is that a healthier community can lead to a healthier economy.
Now, we know that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution here. I mean, for every one of you in this room, there is a solution that works best for your city, for your community. And many of you are already getting started on finding some of those answers. In just the last year, we’ve had 550 communities sign up for Let’s Move Cities and Towns. Now, this is a program that we started to help leaders like you build healthier communities for our kids. And let’s be clear, you don’t have to pass sweeping new ordinances or spend a fortune to get results on this issue. I mean, sometimes it’s very simple common sense ideas that really can make a big difference.
Mayor Robert Cluck in Arlington, Texas, for example, there they provided pedometers to every student in their school district; last summer they did this. And they challenged these kids to walk as much as they could during their school vacation. So 4,500 students signed up, and the winner of the challenge logged 6.8 million steps in just three months, and that’s something. (Applause.) That’s something.
And the point here is that something like this, a little idea that turns into something big — and this is the kind of thing that can happen in every community across this country, it really can. And oftentimes, all it takes is the right person. All it takes is the right leader just to push a little bit on this issue. So I want to emphasize the impact that you can make just by using the resources that you already have at your disposal.
So if you haven’t already, I hope that all of you here will sign up for Let’s Move Cities and Towns. All you have to do is join. To join is to e-mail the regional director. I think he’s listed — that person is listed in your handouts, and they’ll get you all the information that you need to get started. It is really that simple. We have tried to make this pretty easy.
And I also hope that when you get home, you get back to your hometowns and your home communities, I hope that you will reach out to anyone you think can make a difference — city officials, community and business leaders, your local media, and reach out to young people themselves. Encourage them to visit us at letsmove.gov. You can sign up the schools in your community for the HealthierUS Schools Challenge.
But most importantly, I’m here today to ask for your help. I’m here today to ask for your support on this issue, truly, because each of you is in a position to do what no one else can in this country, because by investing in even just one grocery store, you might be able to revitalize an entire neighborhood, maybe attract more businesses and new jobs.
By building more sidewalks, you could help kids get healthier today and reduce health costs and budget strain tomorrow. By investing in more nutritious school lunches or more P.E. time, you can take steps that will lead to a healthier, more productive workforce in the future.
You’re the ones who can spur action. You’re uniquely positioned to put our communities on a stronger, healthier and more financially sound foundation for the future.
And that’s what really this effort is all about, in the end. It’s really about our future. And as Valerie said, if we truly want to compete effectively as a nation, if we are truly going to win the future — and we all want that desperately — then we have to do everything we can today to give all our kids the healthy future that we all know they deserve.
So I want to thank you. I want to thank you for all that you’ve done, because so many of you have stepped up and you’re doing creative things. We want you to keep sharing those ideas. We want everybody to learn from one another. We’re so proud of the efforts that we’ve had with Let’s Move Cities and Towns, but we want to double those numbers. We want to get more schools involved, and we’re going to need all of you stepping up. This is not a Republican issue, it’s not a Democratic issue, it is about our children. (Applause.)
So thank you all in advance. I look forward to working with you all in the future. Thank you so much.
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