Wednesday, September 08, 2010

First Lady Michelle Obama Brings Let's Move! To New Orleans, Launches Phase II of Campaign

First Lady announces new benchmarks and goals; an expanded partnership with NFL; calls on House to pass child nutrition legislation by end of September...and pledges to win President's Active Lifestyle Award
President Obama proclaimed September as National Childhood Obesity Awareness month, and First Lady Michelle Obama visited New Orleans, Louisiana on Wednesday to put the spotlight on the efforts of her Let's Move! campaign, with two major events. In the morning, Mrs. Obama gave a back-to-school speech at Brock Elementary School, detailing new goals and benchmarks for phase II of the campaign, and calling on the House of Representatives to pass pending Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation before the end of September. She also announced her own very public participation in a new fitness project.

In the afternoon, Mrs. Obama joined an NFL event in downtown New Orleans to announce a new co-campaign with the league. She was accompanied by commissioner Roger Goodell, Colts coach Tony Dungy, country singing star Taylor Swift, and NFL players and coaches for football drills with about 100 local school kids. At both events, Mrs. Obama wooed participants to her campaign, promising that some of those who meet the new Let's Move! goals will be invited to the White House for celebratory parties. (At top: Mrs. Obama during her school visit; inset is Mrs. Obama playing football)

During her remarks at Glynn H. Brock Elementary School in Slidell, about a half hour from downtown New Orleans, Mrs. Obama called the past year just "a start" in her efforts to end childhood obesity in a generation.

"We’ve gotten off to a pretty good start. But what we’ve done so far is just that -- it’s a start," Mrs. Obama said. "So the key now, in this next phase of “Let’s Move,” is to get results. We have to ensure that our efforts are actually making our kids healthier."

Brock was selected for Mrs. Obama's visit because it is part of the St. Tammany Parish school system, which has 25 of the nation’s 59 schools that are currently gold-award winners in the HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC), a USDA program rewards schools for fulfilling designated requirements for higher standards for foods, for providing nutrition information, and for offering physical education opportunities. Despite the fact that Brock was virtually destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, with students attending classes in modular trailers until December of 2008, it is among those achieving gold level status, the highest level of distinction.

"This program has spurred schools all across the country to raise their standards and transform their classrooms and cafeterias into healthy eating and learning labs for their students," Mrs. Obama said. She was surrounded on stage by teachers, staff and school officials during her remarks; usually Mrs. Obama is surrounded by children wearing Let's Move! t-shirts during public events, but this time, she was circled by those who are critical to putting her campaign goals into action.

Goal: Doubling the number of schools in the HealthierUS School Challenge
The First Lady praised Brock officials and teachers for their success and creativity, and pointed out that if a school that was destroyed by a hurricane can achieve excellence in fitness and nutrition initiatives, there's no excuse for other schools to not participate.

"All of you are setting the standard for schools and school districts all across this country," Mrs. Obama said, to cheers and applause. "I hear that students here participate in food tasting parties and work with their Cafeteria Manager to teach their peers about healthy eating. I’m told there’s even a jump rope club, which I may have to join."

To date, USDA has made 797 HUSSC awards to schools, and part of the next phase of Let's Move is getting more schools to join the challenge, Mrs. Obama said.

"We’ve set a goal of doubling – doubling – the number of schools that participate in the Healthier US Schools Challenge by June of 2011," Mrs. Obama said. "And we want to add an additional one thousand schools in each of the following two years as well."

Goal: Making participation easy...and rewards for those who succeed
To meet those goals, it's now far easier for schools to enroll in the challenge, Mrs. Obama announced. The application process will be moved online, and school districts can apply for all of their schools to participate in the program with a single application. There's no cap on the number of schools that can participate, and Mrs. Obama said she hopes schools will encourage other schools to join, too. Schools receive cash incentives for each level of achievement in the program, which will be used to fund health initiatives, and Mrs. Obama announced an extra -special carrot for schools that meet the challenge.

"We’re making that victory just a little bit sweeter, with new cash rewards," she said. "And I’ll be inviting representatives from each award-winning school to a reception in their honor at the White House."

The Chefs Move To Schools Toolkit
Mrs. Obama also noted that USDA will be providing better technical assistance through experts’ in-person support to guide school administrators through the application process, and she cited the Chefs Move To Schools program as a part of the effort to ensure school success in HUSSC. Launched at the White House on June 4, the initiative pairs professional chefs with schools across the country. Mrs. Obama noted that there are now 1,800 chefs who have signed on, and 1,300 participating schools. An online toolkit will be released shortly, according to the White House. To date, Chefs participating in the program have received a letter from the White House, and there is a post on the Let's Move! website that details questions participating chefs can ask their schools to determine how they can best be of service.

Goal: Expanding enrollment in federal nutrition programs, and Mrs. Obama's call for Congressional action
Noting that "our schools are on the frontlines of our efforts to fight childhood obesity," with 31 million children enrolled in the federal school lunch program, and 11 million enrolled in the breakfast program, Mrs. Obama announced a goal of adding more children to each.

"We’re working to increase participation in our school lunch program by two million eligible children, and to get another three million kids signed up to start receiving school breakfasts by 2015," Mrs. Obama said. "Because I think we can all agree that no child in America should be starting school hungry each day."

She urged House lawmakers to take action on the pending Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation.

"But I want to be clear--it’s important to be clear that we can’t do any of this unless we pass the Child Nutrition legislation that’s before Congress right now," Mrs. Obama said. "The good news is that the Senate has already acted on this legislation. It is my great hope that the House of Representatives will do the same by the end of this month so that we can get this bill signed into law and start working on behalf of our kids. "

In August, the Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act 2010 by unanimous consent, but the House failed to act, despite repeated urging from the First Lady, who also penned an op-ed for the Washington Post about the need for the legislation.

"This bipartisan legislation supports critically needed investments to help millions of children get the nourishment that they need to be healthy," Mrs. Obama said.

Goal: Doubling the number of children who earn the President’s Active Lifestyle Award; First Lady will participate, too
But getting better foods into schools is only half the battle to end childhood obesity, Mrs. Obama said, noting that encouraging kids to be consistently physically active is critical. The campaign now has a new goal of doubling the number of kids who win the President’s Active Lifestyle Award. (Above: Mrs. Obama greeting audience members)

"To show everyone just how much fun it can be, I will be working to earn my Active Lifestyle Award," Mrs. Obama announced. "In a couple weeks -- I'm not sure when it’s going to start -- starting soon, I'm going to be recording my progress online, so if I start falling behind, I want everyone to be checking on me and make sure that I'm not slacking."

Mrs. Obama suggested that everyone--adults, too--work to achieve the award, which requires participants to perform regular physical activity beyond the daily activity goal of 30 minutes a day for adults/60 minutes a day for youths under 18, at least 5 days per week, for a total of 6 weeks.

"I want all you all to join me," Mrs. Obama said. "Don't just leave it on the kids. I want you all to join me."

The First Lady closed her visit to Brock with a call for everyone in America to join the broader Let's Move! campaign.

"I hope that in the coming months and years, all of you, and schools all across the country, will become even more involved in “Let’s Move," Mrs. Obama said. "We’re going to make it interesting and exciting for kids. All we need you to do is hook them in...So it doesn’t take a lot, it just takes a little spark."

Mrs. Obama announces expanded partnership with NFL; NFL pledges to help 200,000 kids achieve President's award
After Mrs. Obama's visit to Brock, she put words into action for the physical fitness component of Let's Move!, trading her yellow dress for workout gear, during a visit to the NFL PLAY 60 Youth Football Festival in Woldenberg Park, on the riverfront in New Orleans' French Quarter. The event was part of the NFL’s celebration to kick off the 2010 season, which begins tomorrow.

Joined by NFL Commissioner Goodell and Coach Dungy, as well as New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister, New England Patriots wide receiver Rodney Harrison, and Tampa Bay's Derrick Brooks, Mrs. Obama announced that Let's Move! and the NFL are boosting their concurrent campaigns to fight childhood obesity--and then she did football drills with about 100 local kids. (Above: Mrs. Obama with the kids, and from left Dungy (in cap), Brooks, and Goodell)

But first, Mrs. Obama had some words of advice for the kids.

"It’s not just enough that you exercise, but you also have to watch what you put in your body," Mrs. Obama said. "You can’t live on soda and chips and all that. You can’t. Sorry. If you could, I tell you, I would. But you can’t. You’ve got to have vegetables and fruits."

Goodell announced NFL's pledge to help 200,000 kids achieve the President’s Active Lifestyle Award this year, so Mrs. Obama told the kids about her own participation.

"To show everyone how not hard it is, and how much fun it can be, I’m going to earn my award," Mrs. Obama said. "Yeah, me, me. Don’t -- what is the silence? What, you don’t think I can do this? I am going to be working towards my award starting in a couple of weeks -- somewhere, soon."

The kids then cheered. If they weren't convinced Mrs. Obama would participate as she spoke, they were probably convinced when she started running footballs drills with them--especially because the temperature hovered around 90 degrees. (Above: Taylor Swift poses with kids and NFL players from L Deuce McAllister, Derrick Brooks and Eddie George)

A White House party
Mrs. Obama also revealed another incentive to the kids.

"Now, this is news for the press, because we just talked about this, is that I want to host a big ol’ celebration at the White House for some of the kids who have won these awards," Mrs. Obama said.

The White House will apparently be hosting a lot of parties in future, if Mrs. Obama's plans are successful.

As part of the new NFL support for Let's Move!, the NFL and the First Lady’s Office will develop and share co-branded content, which will include a public service announcement that will promote Let’s Move! and Fuel Up To Play 60, a joint program of the National Dairy Council and the NFL. The message will be produced in conjunction with the Ad Council and will debut in November.

In June, the First Lady introduced New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees as the 2010 co-chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. Olympic gymnastics gold medalist Dominique Dawes is the other co-chair, and former New England Patriots football legend Tedy Bruschi was also named a member of the 2010 Council. Brees has been the national spokesman for NFL PLAY 60 campaign for the last three years. A video of Brees and President Obama playing touch football on the South Lawn last year is here. (Above: Mrs. Obama participates in a football drill)

Concurrent with the start of Phase II of Let's Move!, USDA announced the Recipes For Healthy Kids Challenge, which offers $12,000 in prizes to school teams to create healthy recipes for school lunches. All the details on how teams can participate are here; entries close December 30, 2010.

Robin F. Schepper was named in August as the Executive Director for Let's Move!, to ensure that outreach and events are working to achieve the goals of the campaign.

Louisiana now joins the other states Mrs. Obama has visited with the Let's Move! campaign, which include Pennsylvania, Mississippi, California, Maryland, Nevada, and Missouri. The First Lady was last in New Orleans with President Obama on Sunday, August 29, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

*The full transcript of Mrs. Obama's remarks at Brock is here. The transcript of her remarks at the football clinic is here.

*Photos by Reuters, Getty