Remarks by the First Lady at Fresh Food Financing Initiative
2:47 P.M. EST
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. All right, Albalee, that applause was just as much for me as it was for your wonderful introduction. (Laughter.) Wasn't she? She did a great job, great job. (Applause.) Just know that we're all very proud of you, and we're all very proud of every single one of your classmates and every single student here in the city of Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania. I am so pleased to be here today, so grateful. And thank you all for having me.
Ever since July, when Secretary Vilsack stopped -- visited here, he has not stopped talking -- (laughter) -- about his visit here to Pennsylvania. (Applause.) No, really, I mean -- and when I heard about it I couldn't wait to get here. As we've been talking about the garden and talking about this initiative, I'm like, I got to see what's going on in Philly, what's going on in Pennsylvania. So I'm thrilled to finally have the chance to come here and see for myself, and I want to thank Secretary Vilsack not just for being out front on this issue but for his leadership and work at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
I also want to thank Secretary Geithner also for joining us today. Both of them have just been terrific resources and support, not just in the Cabinet but just in everything that we're doing.
And I don't think that many Treasury Secretaries can claim childhood obesity as part of their portfolio, right? (Laughter and applause.) It is pretty cool to have your husband's Treasury Secretary enthusiastically a part of this initiative. (Laughter.) So I salute you for your work. I know your wife has a lot to do with it, but that's -- (laughter.)
I also want to thank Senators Casey and Carper as well for being here; Representatives Brady and Fattah --I'm trying to make sure I'm catching everybody. And Representative Schwartz for joining us today and for their work on behalf of the people of this state and for the people of Delaware.
I want to thank Governor Rendell, Mr. Svelte -- (laughter) -- looking good, who's here. Every time I see him he gets smaller and smaller. (Laughter.) It's a good thing. You're looking good. And I also want to thank his wonderful wife, Judge Marjorie Rendell. I'm going to see you all very shortly tomorrow at the National Governors Association. Have to thank Mayor Nutter, who still is getting the award for one of the best campaign rallies we had here in Philly. He just blew out the introduction, had everybody crying. (Laughter.) So thank you for your support and your leadership here. Representative Evans, thank you for your outstanding work to ensure that the kids across this state can lead active, healthy lives. The work that you've done to get this going has been tremendous. (Applause.) Yeah, stand up!
And I also have to recognize Pat Burns, who hosted us at the Fresh Grocer today. (Applause.) Pat hosted us, just as Jeff Brown hosted Secretary Vilsack and others at his supermarket last summer. It was just wonderful tour, a wonderful experience, and I commend both of you for your leadership and for doing what's best for the people of this city.
And I have to finally thank a few others: the Food Trust. (Applause.) The Reinvestment Fund. (Applause.) And the Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition. (Applause.) You all have done extraordinary and some could say revolutionary work here in this city. And as you all have said consistently, you couldn't do it without each other. That has been the resonating message. So you all should be very proud to be highlighted here today for the work that you've done. It's really groundbreaking, and hopefully will set the tone for what we can do throughout the country.
Six years ago, when this city had fewer supermarkets per person than almost anywhere in America, all right, that was six years ago, when many folks had no access to healthy foods; six years ago many neighborhoods had alarming rates of obesity-related conditions like heart disease and diabetes -- the folks in this city, you all could have decided that you had an unsolvable problems on your hands, right? You could have done that. You could have decided that these problems were just too big and too complicated and too entrenched and thrown your hands up and walked away.
But instead you all took a stand, a really important, collaborative stand. You decided first that no family in this city should be spending a fortune on high-priced, low-quality foods because they have no other options. You decided that no child should be consigned to a life of poor health because of what neighborhood his or her family lives in. And you decided that you weren't going to just talk about the problem or wring your hands about the problems, but you were going to act.
And that's precisely the kind of determination, the kind of commitment that we need to address the epidemic of childhood obesity in this country. And this issue is an issue of great concern to me, and I've said this before, not because I'm First Lady -- or not just because I'm First Lady of this country -- but because I'm a mother, and I care about my kids and I care about all of our kids. And I know that this issue is a great concern to all of you, everyone around this country. We all care about our kids. That's why last week we enthusiastically and proudly launched "Let's Move." (Applause.) "Let's Move" is a nationwide campaign to rally this country around one single but ambitious goal, and that is to end the epidemic of childhood obesity in a generation so that the kids born today grow up with a healthy weight. Simple but ambitious.
So this is what we need to do. Let's move to help families and communities make healthier decisions for their kids. Let's move to bring together our governors and our mayors, our doctors, our nurses, our businesses, our community groups, our parents, teachers, coaches, everyone to tackle this challenge once and for all. And let's move to get our kids what they need to succeed in life. Let's move to ensure that they have the energy and the strength to succeed in school and then in the careers that they choose. Let's move to ensure that they can later live lives where they can keep up with their own kids, maybe keep up with their own grandkids, and if they're blessed, maybe their great-grandkids.
And "Let's Move" is a simple initiative with four parts. And Albalee very well laid them out. (Laughter.) Good job. (Applause.) But let me repeat: First part, let's move to give parents the tools and the information they need to make the healthy choices for their kids. So we're working to provide better labeling for our food and encourage our pediatricians to screen kids for obesity during well-child visits, but then to write a prescription for families when they identify a problem with a step-by-step sort of process for what they can actually do. And we started this wonderful Web site called letsmove.gov to help provide tips and step-by-step strategies on eating well and staying active so parents don't feel alone and isolated as they're trying to figure this out.
Second part: Let's move to get more nutritious food in our schools. Secretary Vilsack, that's something he's focused on. That's why we're working not just with the Department of Agriculture but with food suppliers, food service workers, school officials, and investing billions of dollars to revamp our school breakfast and lunch programs so that our kids are eating foods with less sugar, fat, and salt, and eating more foods with fresh vegetables and fruits and whole grains. (Applause.)
The third part of the initiative is: Let's move. That's literally let's move. We got to move. We got to find ways for our kids to be more active, both in and out of school. That's why we're expanding and modernizing the President's Physical Fitness Challenge. And we've recruited professional athletes from all across this country who are just ready and willing to encourage our kids to get and to stay active.
And then finally, one of the reasons why we're here, the final component: Let's move to ensure that all families have access to healthy, affordable food in their own communities. (Applause.) And the approach on this aspect is very simple. We want to replicate your success here in Pennsylvania all across America.
Again, six years ago this state decided to invest $30 million in fresh food financing, which has leveraged $190 million more from the private and non-profit sectors. And so far these investments have funded 83 supermarket projects in 34 counties, bringing nutritious food to more than 400,000 people. (Applause.) And, more importantly in this economy, this investment is projected to create more than 5,000 jobs. (Applause.) And these jobs are occurring often in communities that need them the most. Across this state, right now, because of these efforts, new employees are learning new job skills. And I met many of them at the Fresh Grocer. Just folks who were proud -- proud to be in a store that was serving their community and proud to be doing a good job and have a chance to not just support their families but do something good for the rest of their communities. (Applause.)
But these new stores are also bringing new economic development into these communities, because they serve as anchors to attract other businesses to invest, and creating even more new jobs. So one good deed leads to another.
And we saw this example today again during our visit to the Fresh Grocer at Progress Plaza. As you all know, the last supermarket that was in that community closed more than 10 years ago. More than a decade ago. That was the last time that that community had a grocery store. So this community went 10 years without a place for folks to buy good food. For 10 years folks had to buy their groceries at places like convenience stores and gas stations, where usually they don't have a whole lot of fresh food, if any, to choose from. So that means if a mom wanted to buy a head of lettuce to make a salad in this community, or have some fresh fruit for their kids' lunch, that means she would have to get on a bus, navigate public transportation with big bags of groceries, probably more than one time a week, or, worse yet, pay for a taxicab ride to get to some other supermarket in another community, just to feed her kids.
So let's think about that. For 10 years in one community, there were kids in that community who couldn't get the nutritious food that they needed during some of the most formative years of their lives. And think about the impact that that can have on a child's health, not just now but in the future, because research shows that children who are overweight as adolescents are 70 to 80 percent more likely to become obese as adults.
And what happened in the neighborhood that we visited today is happening somewhere in every state all across this country. Right now there are 23.5 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, who live in what we call "food deserts." These are places and communities that don't have a supermarket. This is true in the inner city and in rural communities. This is happening all across the country.
But fortunately, right here in Philadelphia, you all have this wonderful grocer named Pat Burns who had already opened successful stores in other neighborhoods. And he decided that it was -- he was interested in opening a grocery store in Progress Plaza. (Applause.) But he could only do it because of a grant from the Fresh Food Financing Initiative. And today, just a few months after it opened -- and this is important for everybody to understand -- the Fresh Grocer is doing a thriving business. It's a beautiful store, attracting folks from neighboring communities and providing jobs for folks in the area. In fact, during the big snow the Fresh Grocer was able to stay open because so many of the employees live nearby.
So with your success here in Pennsylvania, what you've shown us is that when we provide the right support and incentives, then business leaders like Pat Burns and Jeff Brown, they're going to take the chance to invest in our communities. And when we bring fresh, healthy food to communities, what do we learn? People will buy it, right? People will buy it. These stores are turning a profit. And what's going on is that they're doing well by doing good. Isn't that something? (Applause.)
So it's because of this example that part of "Let's Move" we created this Healthy Food Financing Initiative that's modeled on what's been going on here. And as Secretary Geithner said, with a modest initial investment of about $400 million a year, we're going to use that money to leverage hundreds of millions more from private and non-profit sectors to bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved communities all across this country. If you can do it here, we can do it around the country. (Applause.) And our goal is ambitious. It's to eliminate food deserts in America completely in seven years. (Applause.)
Again, we know this is ambitious, but we also know that tackling the issue of accessibility and affordability is key to achieving the overall goal of solving childhood obesity in this generation. Because we can give our kids the healthiest school breakfasts and lunches imaginable, but that won't mean much if they head to the corner store after school and buy candy and chips and soda because that's all they have available, right? And we can create the best nutrition education and physical education programs in the world, but if dinner is something off of the shelf of a local gas station or convenience store because there's no grocery store nearby, all our best efforts are going to go to waste. We're setting people up for failure if we don't fix this.
So it's clear that we need a comprehensive, coordinated approach. But we also have to be clear that that doesn't mean that it requires a bunch of new laws and policies from Washington, D.C. I have spoken to many experts on this issue, and not a single one of them has said that the solution to this problem is to have government telling people what to do in their own lives.
It's also not about spending huge sums of money, particularly during these times, when so many communities are already stretched thin. Instead, it's about doing more with what we already have.
And as you've shown us here in Philadelphia, it's about smart investments that leverage more investments and then have the potential to pay for themselves many times over in the long run. What you've clearly demonstrated here in this city and in this state is that we can do what's good for our businesses and our economy while doing what's good for our kids and our families and our neighborhoods at the same time. We can do it all. (Applause.)
And Jeff Brown put it best when he talked about his decision to put a grocery store in underserved communities. He said, "We have more than the bottom" -- "We have more than one bottom line here." That's important. He said, "We have more than one bottom line here…the community's success is important, too." That's a wonderful spirit. (Applause.) And in the end, that's what this is all about, really -- not just the kind of food that we want our kids to eat, but it's also about the kind of communities that we want our kids to live in. And it's about the kind of lives that we want them to lead, right, all of our kids.
We know it won't be easy to solve this obesity crisis, because these big problems are never easy. We're going to need a lot more folks just like all of you to step up to the plate. This isn't about the First Lady doing it all. I can't do it by myself. I'm going to need all of you. We're going to have to work together. But if there's anyone out there who doubts that it can be done, then I would urge them to come here to Philadelphia and to see what you've done here. (Applause.) I would urge them to see the difference that we can make when government and businesses and community groups and ordinary folks come together to tackle a common problem. It's a powerful thing. I would urge them to imagine what we can achieve if we take programs like this that have lifted up so many communities here in Pennsylvania and then we bring those programs and those efforts and those ideas to every part of this country. Just imagine how many jobs we can create. Just imagine how many neighborhoods that we could revitalize and how many lives could be transformed. You all are seeing that now.
So let's move. (Laughter.) That's really the point. (Applause.) If we know it can be done, let's move, let's get it done. Let's give our kids everything they need and everything they deserve to be the best that they can be. Thank you all. This has been a wonderful day. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
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