Thursday, July 19, 2012

Philadelphia: First Lady Michelle Obama Announces Expansion Of Let's Move! Campaign

Mrs. Obama unveils new project for local elected officials, calls for increased enrollment in federal nutrition programs...
Philadelphia, PA: First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday was flanked by a battalion of elected local officials who have created healthier communities as she unveiled new projects designed to expand her Let's Move! campaign. With 'Let's Move! Cities, Towns and Counties' (LMCTC), Mrs. Obama is calling on elected officials across the US to follow the lead of Mayors like Philadelphia's Michael Nutter, Newark, NJ's Cory Booker, Oklahoma City, OK's Mayor Mick Cornett, who have all created programs supporting Let's Move!. (Above: Mrs. Obama during her remarks)

Launched in June of 2010 just for cities and towns, the LMCTC component has included counties since last July, according to an East Wing spokesman. But Wednesday was the first time Mrs. Obama has publicly mentioned the county-level element. And though she routinely says that her childhood obesity campaign is not about "government intervention," during her speech at the Lenfest Police Athletic Center in the impoverished Hunting Park neighborhood, Mrs. Obama unveiled five "targeted goals" for LMCTC that include elected officials making a commitment to boost participation in federal nutrition programs.

Speaking to a crowd of about 200 community leaders, Mrs. Obama hailed the program as "groundbreaking." Still, she opened her remarks by underplaying the role of the federal government in obesity reduction efforts.

"I’ve said this again and again--there is no one-size-fits all policy or program that can solve this problem. And Washington certainly does not have all the answers on this issue," Mrs. Obama said.

"Instead, many of the best, most innovative, most effective solutions start in our city halls and our towns and our county councils."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (l) pre-ceeded Mrs. Obama to the stage to explain the five goals. Local officials are being asked to commit to increase the number of children in their communities who are enrolled in the federal School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program, which offers free and reduced-priced meals to children from low-income families. About 32 million kids participate in the lunch program, with about 11 million in the breakfast program. Elected officials are also asked to pledge to promote the federal dietary guidelines and USDA's MyPlate initiative, and to change municipal food service to be in line with federal dietary guidelines.

There's also a goal to improve standards for early childhood care centers, and a goal to create other eating and fitness initiatives that relies on compiling and tracking local data about things like public spaces and fitness programs (full details on the five 'targeted goals' are here).

Mrs. Obama's announced a new website for local officials, healthycommunitieshealthyfuture.org, to track their progress and achieve their goals. It is run by The National League of Cities' Institute for Youth, Education and Families, backed with a $1 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

All elected officials who sign up on the site will receive "free resources, access to experts, tracking tools and maps to help them make healthy changes, record progress and connect with other communities participating in Lets Move! Cities, Towns and Counties," according to the White House. They can also earn bronze, silver and gold and "medals" as they achieve their goals. A "medal" means the elected official's community "will be recognized by National League of Cities on the See Progress portion" of the website.

The National League of Cities is "collaborating" with the United States Conference of Mayors and the National Association of Counties on the project. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a founding member of Partnership for a Healthier America, the foundation that supports and monitors commitments to the Let's Move! campaign.

Thanks to the project, "you all will be able to provide more healthy food for our kids. You’ll be able to build more playgrounds and play-spaces for our families," Mrs. Obama said.

"And no matter what challenge you’re confronting, no matter what project you decide to tackle, you’re going to have more of the tools and the assistance you need to truly make a difference in the lives of our kids."

Communities cannot ignore the economic impact of obesity, Mrs. Obama said.

"Local leaders know the critical impact these issues have on their communities," Mrs. Obama said. "You all see it in your budgets in the tens of millions of dollars in health-care costs. You see it in your workforce, because when kids aren't healthy they miss more days at school, and that can mean higher absenteeism as parents have to stay at home and care for these kids."

An East Wing spokesman did not respond to a query about how many communities are now enrolled in Let's Move! Cities, Towns and Counties. A spokesman for Partnership for a Healthier America said he did not have the data, either. In 2011, when the component was just 'Let's Move! Cities and Towns,' there were about 550 communities signed on. Photos of elected officials who have pledged to join the project appear on the website.

Wednesday's other big news: Blue Cross Blue Shield Association committed to fund ten "Play Streets" in cities and towns across the US between now and October 2013. Run by Partnership for a Healthier America, the “Play Streets” project shuts down streets in neighborhoods that don't have access to outdoor space so children and families can "run, walk, bike or play outside freely without traffic." Local leaders can apply for the Play Streets funding at www.ahealthieramerica.org/PlayStreetsRFP.

After her remarks, the First Lady joined Mayor Nutter and a group of kids in cutting a big purple ribbon on a new indoor "Imagination Playground" that's made of antibacterial foam, donated by KaBOOM!, a national organization that brings indoor and outdoor playgrounds to communities across the nation. (Above: The ribbon cutting)

The kids rapidly got to work with the foam components, busily building and throwing some of the included balls. Mrs. Obama handed out plenty of hugs.

That *other* campaign, and Cory Booker...
The First Lady's visit to the largest city in a crucial battleground state had the feel of a stump stop for President Obama's re-election campaign; there was even patriotic red, white, and blue bunting wrapped around the base of the podium from which Mrs. Obama spoke, a first for a Let's Move! event. Mrs. Obama last visited the City of Brotherly Love on June 6 for campaign events, and the President was in town the following week, stumping on June 12.

Mrs. Obama did not mention her husband's race to retain the White House, but Let's Move! is a swell way to get the very popular First Lady in front of potential voters without it seeming like she's always on the campaign trail. Mrs. Obama's three-day national tour last February for the second anniversary of Let's Move! was one of the longer solo trips she's made as First Lady. Four of her eight events were in the battleground state of Florida, one was in Iowa, and two were in Texas. On Tuesday, while campaigning in San Antonio, the President told a crowd in that the Lone Star State will "soon" be a battleground state.

Mrs. Obama's event also served as political rehabilitation of sorts for Cory Booker with the Administration. In May, Booker, a longtime Obama surrogate who serves as honorary vice-chair of Partnership for a Healthier America, got into hot water after he said during a Meet The Press interview that the Obama campaign's attack ads on presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Bain, and private equity firms were "nauseating." Booker rapidly walked back his observations via a YouTube video after being publicly chastised by a top Obama advisor, and his Communications Director resigned. (Above: Booker during his remarks at the event)

But Booker sat directly behind the First Lady as she made her remarks. He was the first speaker on the day's program, and introduced Sec. Sebelius.

Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass joined Mrs. Obama in Philadelphia, but made no remarks; he watched from the sidelines as his boss spoke. The First Lady's Communications Director Kristina Schake and Chief of Staff Tina Tchen were also among the aides observing from the sidelines. (Above: Kass; Tchen is at right with her glasses on her head)

Mrs. Obama flew to Birmingham, Alabama after the morning event, for a campaign fundraiser at the Birmingham Sheraton Hotel.

Also seated behind Mrs. Obama on stage at the Lenfest center were Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers of Avondale, AZ; Supervisor Linda Langston of Linn County, IA; Mayor Karl Dean, Nashville, TN; Mayor Ted Ellis, Bluffton, IN; Mayor Harvey Johnson, Jr., Jackson, MS; Mayor Kevin Johnson, Sacramento, CA; Commissioner Larry Johnson; DeKalb County, GA; Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans, LA; Mayor Jack Reed, Tupelo, MS; and Mayor Joe Riley, Charleston, SC. The White House bios of the leaders are at the bottom of this post.

The transcript of Mrs. Obama's remarks.

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama