"This is what we dreamed of when the First Lady launched Let's Move!," said the Senior Policy Advisor...
Los Angeles, CA - While President Obama and First Lady Obama were in Chicago over the weekend, Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass was hard at work in the Golden State, spreading the good word about the Let's Move! campaign. On Saturday in Los Angeles, Kass joined thousands of citizens for a day-long healthy eating and fitness event celebrating the launch of Let's Move California!, a statewide initiative to reduce child obesity. He was accompanied by state Attorney General Kamala Harris, members of the LA City Council, and Pastor John Hunter and his wife Denise Hunter of First African Methodist Episcopal (FAME) church, the leaders of the LA-based Let's Move! initiative that led to the state-wide project. (Above, from l: UCLA's Dr. Toni Yancey; Pastor Hunter; Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky; Kass, Mrs. Hunter)
Governor Jerry Brown issued a proclamation, dubbing June 16-17 Let's Move California! weekend.
"Communities are taking ownership of this initiative and transcending Washington, and making it their own," Kass told Obama Foodorama during a break in the action at the Let’s Move California!: Fitness Feria event, held on the campus of the Robert F. Kennedy Schools in the Koreatown neighborhood.
"This is what we dreamed of when the First Lady launched Let's Move!," Kass said.
With a population of more than 39.6 million, California is lionized as the cradle of healthy culinary innovation. It has millions of acres of outdoor recreation space, a fitness culture enshrined by Hollywood, and some of America's top pro sports teams as role models--the champion LA Galaxy soccer team and the newly crowned Stanley Cup champs the Kings. But the state is still in need of Let's Move!. About 61% of California adults were overweight or obese in 2011, with 25% actually obese. 38% of children statewide were obese or overweight in 2010, with the statistic higher--42%--for kids living in the largely urban and very diverse Los Angeles county (15% actually obese).
"This is a big moment," Kass said, noting that a statewide initiative will offer more resources and information for parents and communities.
Surrounded by skyscrapers, the campus was filled with information tents and fitness activity stations. The Army, an event sponsor, had a rock tower where delighted kids in rope harnesses scrambled to the top. Acclaimed chefs, including Wolfgang Puck (with his son Alexander) Ingrid Hoffman, and Cathlyn Choi gave cooking demos. Instructors--speaking in English, Spanish and Korean--led kids and parents through health screenings (BMI, blood pressure), tastings, and mini nutrition education classes, which featured USDA's MyPlate materials. (Above: Puck addresses the crowd)
Players from the Los Angles Angels and the LA Sparks led workouts for kids. Free pedometers, sports balls and even fruit tree saplings were handed out. Cosponsors for the event included Let's Move! partners Goya, Walmart and The California Endowment, as well as Dole and First 5 LA, which all had demonstration booths.
"All kinds of stakeholders have come together here," Kass said. "It's been amazing to see people uniting around the health of kids."
Kass addressed the crowd from the main stage on the athletic field, describing the First Lady's mission and encouraging everyone to keep up the good work. There were plenty of cheers as he detailed Mrs. Obama's project.
Praise for the First Lady, Kass, and Angelenos...
During a second appearance later in the afternoon on the stage, Kass, surrounded by members of the City Council, accepted commendation certificates for the First Lady and himself from the LA City Council and state lawmakers. Councilman Eric Garcetti, whose 13th District includes Koreatown, spoke at length about the city's challenges with food access and obesity. (Above: Garcetti hands Kass a commendation)
"Mr. Kass has been the person who is the genius behind the First Lady's efforts at pushing this initiative forward," Denise Hunter told the crowd as Kass was presented with the scrolls.
Hunter got plenty of shout outs of her own. Kass rained praise on all the Angelenos, but he noted that Denise Hunter and Pastor John Hunter have spearheaded Los Angeles' Let's Move! efforts, which led to the statewide initiative. FAME Assistance Corporation, the Church's non-profit, is Let's Move! California's lead organization, and organized the Saturday event. Located in an impoverished neighborhood at the corner of Western Avenue and Adams Boulevard--long ago one of the richest sections of Los Angeles--FAME has a congregation of more than 19,000 people, primarily African Americans. Among other health initiatives, FAME hosts a market in the parking lot each weekend, to boost local access to healthy food.
The Hunters "have been great," said Kass. "They have been incredible partners."
Garcetti, 41, told Obama Foodorama that his District, which sweeps from Echo Park through Hollywood and into the Valley, has the most farmers markets in Los Angeles--14--but still has a high rate of obesity. He credited it to both poverty---he said the average family income is about $23,000 annually--and a lack of recreational opportunities for kids. (Above: A long line of kids waited to take on the Army's rock tower)
"We used to run around and play all day outside," Garcetti said, echoing something the First Lady often points out. "That's not possible now in a lot of places here."
Garcetti noted that California's high child obesity rate has persisted despite the state revamping its school fitness requirements beginning in 1999, and despite a city-wide ban on junkfood and soda in school vending machines. And for all the televised efforts of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to deride the school lunch program as unhealthy, LA Unified School District has one of the better meal programs in the US.
"We've got plenty to do," Garcetti said, adding that he admires the First Lady for taking on the issue.
Kass is confident that more states will follow the California's lead and launch statewide Let's Move! projects.
"There's amazing work going on all over the country," Kass said.
When he wasn't on stage, Kass was surrounded by delighted locals seeking autographs and photos. He posed with a Taekwondo do youth team while their proud coach snapped photos, and leaned down to speak with the smallest member, a boy of nine. (Above)
"You're already a brown belt?!" Kass said. "Wow. Nice."
"He could take me out," Kass said, laughing, to the adults looking on.
Kass arrived in Los Angeles on Friday and met with stakeholders to discuss local initiatives, he said. He headed back to Washington on Sunday.
The Senior Policy Advisor's next jumbo outing for Let's Move! will be in July, when he speaks to thousands of school food professionals at the School Nutrition Association's annual meeting, which will be held this year in Denver, Colorado. In between, there will be plenty of smaller events, too; Kass travels virtually non-stop for Let's Move!.
Above: Registered Dieticians in the MyPlate booth, which featured a copy of the family cooking magazine 'ChopChop' with Kass on the cover.
*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama