Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Michelle Obama Announces Renewed Focus On Physical Fitness For Let's Move! Campaign

Combating a "crisis of inactivity" in America's children: In the year ahead, First Lady will unveil new tools and new partnerships designed to "redefine" the idea of play...
First Lady Michelle Obama announced a fundamental shift in the Let's Move! campaign as she gave the keynote address on Wednesday morning at Partnership for a Healthier America's "Building a Healthier Future Summit." Held over two days in Washington, DC, the event was the first obesity conference from the non-profit foundation created to support the Let's Move! campaign.  More than 800 stakeholders, from the public and private sector, academia, and the medical community attended. (Above: Mrs. Obama, honorary chair of the foundation, meets with the board before her speech)

During remarks in the ballroom of the Omni hotel, Mrs. Obama said that over the next year, her national initiative will have a renewed focus on physical fitness, sports, and active play, to combat what she called "the crisis of inactivity that we see among our kids."

"The fact is that, today, we may well be raising the most sedentary generation of kids in the history of this country," Mrs. Obama said. "We as a society need to redefine for kids what play is."

Getting children to be more physically active should be much easier than getting them to eat healthy foods, Mrs. Obama said, a major focus of Let's Move!, and the raison d'etre for the very public role of Sam Kass, her Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives, as well as for her Kitchen Garden.

"This isn’t forcing them to eat their vegetables," Mrs. Obama said.  "It’s getting them to go out there and have fun."

In the year ahead, the Let's Move! campaign will be unveiling "wonderful new tools and information for parents," it will continue promoting the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award, and continue a community-level focus, through Mayors, on improving access to physical activity opportunities, the First Lady said. It can all be done without "spending a dime," she said.

"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."

Mrs. Obama has repeatedly called on the food and beverage industry to rethink its practices, especially in relation to children.  On Wednesday she did the same for those involved in creating entertainment and activity products for children, challenging corporations and non-profits--and parents and schools--to focus on ways to get kids moving. She asked America to re-define the idea of "play" for children, and to shift to a more active paradigm that doesn't include video games and other passive entertainment as a standard practice.

Toys, she said, should inspire kids to move.  Schools should encourage recess and PE.  Communities should improve access to public lands, such as parks, to make them more user-friendly.

"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," Mrs. Obama said.

Mrs. Obama's major wins for Let's Move! in 2011 included commitments from grocery chains, including Walmart, to build markets in food deserts, and getting America's largest chain of eateries, Darden Restaurants, Inc., to commit to making its menus healthier.

The First Lady pointed out that she has done everything possible to inspire Americans to become more physically active, and played a video of herself in action, at home and abroad--doing push ups with Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Africa, running around a US school with Mrs. Margarita Zavala, First Lady of Mexico, playing ping pong with Nickelodeon boy band Big Time Rush in the White House.

"As you can see, I’m pretty much willing to make a complete fool out of myself to get our kids moving," she said, to laughter. "There’s a reason why I’ve been out there jumping rope and hula hooping and dancing to Beyoncé, whatever it takes. 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."

Mrs. Obama's campaign has already received the support of many of the major US sports leagues, including the NFL, the NBA, US Soccer, US tennis, hockey, and even NASCAR. Beyonce's "Move Your Body" dance video for the campaign, released in April of 2011, has gotten more than 14.7 million hits on YouTube.  This Fall, she announced a Let's Move! milestone: 1.7 million people in the last year completed the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award challenge.

"We’re going to keep working with schools to increase activity during the day. We’re going to work with sports leagues and celebrities and businesses to inspire our kids to get active," Mrs. Obama said, adding that faith-based organizations will be vital to the new push, too.

Let's Move Faith and Communities, a sub-component of the campaign, has enrolled religious organizations from a panoply of faiths, as well as community groups, such as the Boys and Girls Clubs, into the campaign, to focus their considerable resources on child health.

"Together, I am confident that we will solve this problem," Mrs. Obama said, and pointed to the fact that it will impact generations of children in the years ahead.

"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."

Despite the First Lady's announcement of the renewed focus on physical activity for the campaign, the summit also featured a focus on healthy food.  A team of James Beard Award-winning chefs cooked a lunch and dinner for attendees using what was deemed a Food Stamps budget, $4.50 per person.  On Tuesday evening, Kass emceed a cooking showcase, featuring Top Chef host Tom Colicchio and three other Beard awardees.  It was designed to demonstrate that a family of four can easily cook and then eat a healthy "gourmet" meal on a Food Stamps budget--just $10.  But one six-year-old judge spent his time on the competition stage spitting out the offerings of the acclaimed chefs, brutally illustrating how far the Let's Move! campaign has to go to fulfill the mantra of the summit, "making the healthier choice the easier choice."

Led by chairman Dr. James R. Gavin III, Partnership for a Healthier America has locked down a series of major commitments from the private sector since it was created in February of 2010, including those from Walmart and Darden. New commitments announced during the summit for the Let's Move! campaign are here, and include Hyatt Hotels and Resorts pledging to change their menu offerings across their venues, as well as a commitment from Kaiser Permanente to make 29 hospitals "Baby Friendly," with a dedicated focus on encouraging breast feeding.

*The full transcript of Mrs. Obama's remarks is here.

The Y.M.C.A announces a new commitment...
Mrs. Obama was introduced before her remarks by 14-year-old Kayla Brathwaite, who represents Y.M.C.A. of Greater New York. The national organization is one of the largest childcare providers in the US, and announced on Wednesday that it is adopting "healthy living standards" for all its facilities. (Above: Mrs. Obama and Kayla)

These standards will be voluntary, but include offering fruit, vegetables and water (rather than soda or sugary beverages) at snack/meal time, increasing the amount of exercise opportunities offered to children, and limiting video games and television in its childcare programs.

About 700,000 children are enrolled in after school and summer programs at Ys in the US, and the new initiative was developed in consultation with PHA and the White House. A spokesman for the Y said that about 85% of chapters, which are run by state organizations, are expected to adopt the guidelines.

They are similar to guidelines adopted by Bright Horizons, the nation's second-largest childcare provider, with about 70,000 children at 600 centers across the US. The company announced its commitment when Mrs. Obama launched Let's Move Child Care in June of 2011. It was a sponsor of the summit, as were Walgreens and Walmart, two of the grocery corporations that have commited to building markets in food deserts.

*In top photo, PHA chairman James R. Gavin III is at the First Lady's left, and on her right is Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a vice-chair. Photo by Lawrence Jackson/White House; second by Y.M.C.A of Greater New York