Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Michelle Obama Asks Mayors, Elected Officials To 'Double Down' On Combating Child Obesity

Celebrating the one-year anniversary of Let's Move! Cities, Towns and Counties, First Lady calls for more action on the local level and discusses a major new study...
More than 330 Mayors and other elected officials have joined Let's Move! Cities Towns and Counties (LMCTC) since First Lady Michelle Obama  launched the project last July in  Philadelphia.  Mrs. Obama made the announcement on Wednesday as she gathered 41 of the leaders at the White House to celebrate the anniversary, thank them, and ask them to "double down" in their efforts to support her child obesity initiative.  (Above, Mrs. Obama during her remarks)

"You do not have to do what you're doing," Mrs. Obama said.  "So it means a great deal, not just to me personally as the First Lady, but to all those kids that are living in your communities who are counting on all of us to get this right." 

The celebration came the day after Mrs. Obama had the global spotlight on Let's Move! as she hosted her second annual Kids' State Dinner.  Clad in a maroon dress with a white pattern, Mrs. Obama received a standing ovation as she entered  the auditorium of the Old Eisenhower Executive Office Building to greet her guests.

LMCTC asks elected officials in urban and rural areas to pledge to achieve five community-wide goals for policy and environmental changes to combat child obesity, including boosting enrollment in the federal school meal programs, and creating safe public spaces for fitness activities.  It is run by the National League of Cities in partnership with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  

Communities are recognized with bronze, silver and gold "medals" for achieving pledge goals, and Mrs. Obama announced that more than 1,000 medals have been awarded over the last year.

"That means that more than 56 million Americans are now living in a community dedicated to improving nutrition and physical activity for our young people,"  Mrs. Obama said.

While that is an impressive-sounding number, it doesn't necessarily mean that about one fifth of the US population is actually taking part in the pledge initiatives.  But the Let's Move! campaign is deeply invested in branding projects into Mrs. Obama's national movement, and dubbing cities and counties "Let's Move!" communities is a way of ensuring her legacy continues after her husband leaves office.

Thus some of the medals have been awarded for activity that pre-dates last year's launch of LMCTC.  For instance, Charlottesville, Virginia's Vice-Mayor Kristin Szakos was one of Mrs. Obama's White House guests.  Charlottesville joined LMCTC just three months ago in May, and has already been awarded two bronze medals, Szakos announced in a press release.  

So one point of the White House gathering was to let the leaders know Mrs. Obama is grateful:  "My first job here today is just to say thank you, really," she said.

In April of this year, when 265 elected officials had joined LMCTC, the city of Knoxville and Knox County, Tennessee were jointly ranked #1 in the medal race, with four gold medals and one bronze medal each.  Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero was also among Mrs. Obama's guests.

An uphill battle...and a major new study...
The second point of the celebration was to let the officials know they have the full support of Mrs. Obama and the White House in their uphill battle for change.  The First Lady called on them to do more; the overall goal of Let's Move! is to reduce the national prevalence of childhood obesity from its current rate of about 17%  to a rate of just 5% by 2030.

"You all are at the forefront of this work, and we need you to continue to lead the way as we work to end our country’s epidemic of childhood obesity," Mrs. Obama said.  

"So I want to ask you all to double down on this initiative, just to push a little bit harder on what you're doing."

The statistics for the national prevalence of child obesity have not changed since Mrs. Obama launched her campaign in February of 2010, though she noted that "we are making real progress on this issue."  She pointed to the state of Mississippi's reduction of 13.3% in its child obesity rate as a success story, a factoid she used frequently during the blitz that accompanied the third-anniversary celebration for her national campaign last February.  
"We’re certainly encouraged that obesity rates are starting to decline in places like New York and in Mississippi," Mrs. Obama said.

She did not mention that the drop is only for white children in grades K-5, and occurred over six years between Spring 2005, when Mississippi's rate was 43%, and Spring 2011, when it was reported at 37.3%.  That drop came primarily from Mississippi's own efforts, rather than using tools offered by the Let's Move! campaign, but it still leaves the state with one of the highest rates of child obesity in the US.    

But though she didn't mention the facts behind her numbers, Mrs. Obama is well aware of the reality.  Child obesity "is a challenge that simply can’t be fixed in a year or two, or even 10," Mrs. Obama said.   

"It took us a lifetime, generations to get here, and it's going to take us just as much time to turn this around."

Thus she asked her guests to become ambassadors for Let's Move!, and sign on everyone who has skin in the game.

"We need you to bring more people to the table on this issue--more faith leaders, more doctors and business owners, more principals and teachers--and, of course, more and more parents," Mrs. Obama said.  

"And we need you to reach out to leaders in neighboring communities....partner with some of your colleagues on new programs whenever it seems like it's going to work.  Ask them to join you and become a Let’s Move community."

Following Mrs. Obama's fifteen-minute appearance, the group was briefed on a new study released on Wednesday by the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).  The study, "Prevalence of physical activity and obesity in US counties 2001-2011: A road map for action,"  found that poor diet and nutrition were the leading causes of disease burden in the US, and contributed to more health loss in 2010 than smoking, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar.  Dr. Chris Murray, lead researcher, conducted the briefing. 

"The key here is that the data from this report goes all the way down to the county level, which means that you’ll be able to see which issues are affecting your communities the most," Mrs. Obama said about the study.  "You’ll be able to make more effective decisions to really focus your resources and programming to find solutions that fit the needs of your community."

The briefing came as the guests had a closed-press meeting with Senior Policy Advisor for Nutrition Policy Sam Kass, who is Let's Move! Executive Director; David Agnew, Special Assistant to the President and Director of the White House office of Intergovernmental Affairs; and Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health at HHS, the LMCTC point man from the agency.  They were also scheduled to discuss projects and programs that have worked for member cities and counties.

LMCTC is also run with the support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and in partnership with the National Association of Counties and other nonprofit organizations.  The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has awarded NLC a grant to provide technical assistance. The foundation is a founding member of Partnership for a Healthier America, which coordinates foundation and private sector pledges and projects for Let's Move!.

Mrs. Obama's remarks were livestreamed by the White House, and she departed the meeting to another standing ovation from her guests.  Minutes later she joined President Obama in the East Room for the presentation ceremony for the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal. 

The video of Mrs. Obama's remarks:

*The transcript of Mrs. Obama's remarks.

Per the East Wing, the Mayors and other elected officials at the meeting included:   
C. Kim Bracey, Mayor, York, PA; David Baker, Mayor, Kenmore, WA; Tameika Isaac Devine, Councilwoman, Columbia, SC; Kristin Szakos, Vice Mayor, Charlottesville, VA; Cris Eaton Welsh, Mayor Pro Tem, Kennesaw, GA; Chip Johnson, Mayor, Hernando, MS; Dr. Alan B. Coleman, Councilmember, Ward 1, Beaumont, TX; Julie-Ann Dixon, Councilmember, District 9, Richland County, SC; Bob Jackson, Mayor, City of Casa Grande, AZ; Madeline Rogero, Mayor, Knoxville, TN; Hanifa G.N. Shabazz, Council Member, Wilmington, DE; Acquanetta Warren, Mayor, Fontana, CA; David A. Michael, Mayor, Sabina, OH; Beth White, Alderman, Ward One, North Little Rock, AR; Setti Warren, Mayor, Newton, MA; Don Reimal, Mayor, Independence, MO; Rodney Grogan, Mayor, Patterson, LA; Nick Mosby, Councilman, District 7, Baltimore, MD; Lizette Parker, Councilwoman, Teaneck, NJ; Christopher Beutler, Mayor, Lincoln, NE; John Linder, Mayor, Chester, PA; Brenda Lawrence, Mayor, Southfield, MI; Rick Skinner, Mayor, Williamstown, KY; Michael Gomez, Mayor Pro Tem, Hawaiian Gardens, CA; L. Dennis Michael, Mayor, Rancho Cucamonga, CA; Arlanda Williams, Council Chairwoman, Terrebonne Parish, LA; Joan Foster, Councilwoman, Lynchburg, VA; John Adornato III, Mayor, Oakland Park, FL; Terry M. Bellamy, Mayor, Asheville, NC; Mechelle Wallace, Elected Alderman, Alligator, MS; Tommie Brown, Mayor, Alligator, MS; Vince Williams, Mayor Pro Tem, Union City, GA; Jerry Gist, Mayor, Jackson, TN; Lisa Sulka, Mayor, Bluffton, SC; Petrella Robinson, Mayor, North Brentwood, MD; Bob Murphy, Mayor, Lakewood, CO; Rick Elumbaugh, Mayor, Batesville, AR; Nancy Chaney, Mayor, Moscow, ID; John Hall, Councilmember, Rockville, MD; Jean Curtiss, Missoula County Commissioner, Missoula, MT; Joan Garner, County Commissioner, District 6, Fulton County, GA.

The Five LMCTC pledge goals are:
Consider forming a childhood obesity task force in your own community, or aligning with an existing task force, that engages a range of city agencies, partners, and constituents to achieve the goals of  Let’s Move! Cities, Towns, and Counties.  

I. Start Early, Start Smart:  To provide children with a healthier start, local elected officials commit to helping early care and education providers incorporate best practices for nutrition, physical activity and screen time into their programs. 

II. My Plate, Your Place:  To empower parents and caregivers, local elected officials commit to prominently displaying USDA's MyPlate information in all municipal or county venues where food is served.

III. Smart Servings for Students:  To provide healthy food in schools, local elected officials commit to increasing participation in the School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program.

IV. Model Food Service:  To improve access to healthy, affordable foods, local elected officials commit to implementing healthy and sustainable food service guidelines that are aligned with the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans in all municipal and county venues that serve food.

V.  Active Kids at Play:
  To increase physical activity, local elected officials commit to mapping local playspaces, completing a needs assessment, developing an action plan, and launching a minimum of three proven policies, programs or initiatives aimed at increasing access to play.

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama.  White House video.