Remarks of First Lady Michelle Obama Let’s Move! Launch Anniversary Speech to Parents
Good afternoon everyone. Thank you so much. I am thrilled to be here with all of you today to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Let’s Move! I want to first thank Pastor Andy Stanley for that very kind introduction and for his devoted leadership here at North Point Community Church. I also want to recognize Reverend Cynthia Hale, from the Ray of Hope Christian Church, for her leadership and for co-hosting today’s celebration. Thanks also to Georgia’s wonderful First Lady, Mrs. Sandra Deal and to all the elected officials here for joining us today. And of course, I want to thank all the musicians, singers, and everyone else who graced us with their talent earlier this afternoon, let’s give them all another round of applause.
Now, we’re not just here today to celebrate the first anniversary of a campaign to solve the problem of childhood obesity in a generation. We’re here to celebrate a new conversation in this country about the health and well-being of our children. It’s a conversation about what our kids eat and how they move. It’s about how they feel and how they feel about themselves. And it’s about what that means, not just for their physical and emotional health, but for their success in school and in life.
And over this past year, we’ve seen the first signs of a fundamental shift in how we live and eat. We’ve seen changes at every level of our society – from classrooms, to boardrooms, to the halls of Congress. And there’s a reason I wanted to hold this celebration here at North Point Community Church.
There’s a reason I wanted to talk with all of you – parents from all different backgrounds with kids of all different ages. And that’s because these changes are happening for one simple reason: because you asked for them. You see, that’s really what Let’s Move! is all about. That’s how it all started – by listening to parents just like you. By working to meet your needs, by working to fulfill your hopes and dreams for your kids.
You asked for more fresh, nutritious food in your communities. So we’re working to bring more grocery stores into underserved areas. You wanted healthier, more affordable options on those grocery store shelves. So food manufacturers made a “Healthy Weight Commitment,” pledging to cut 1.5 trillion calories a year from their products. And Walmart promised to sell products with less sugar, salt and trans-fat – and to reduce prices on healthy items like fresh fruits and vegetables.
You asked for more information about the food you buy for your kids. And today, we’re seeing better, clearer labels on beverage cans and many other products in our grocery stores. You asked for better food in your kids’ schools – the kind of balanced meals you’re trying to make at home. So we’re putting salad bars in 6,000 schools across the country. Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, historic legislation that will provide healthier school meals to millions of American children. And more than 2,000 professional chefs have signed up to help local schools develop healthier menus.
You asked for better role models for your kids. So we recruited professional athletes to encourage kids to stay active. You asked for healthier communities that can sustain healthy families. And through Let’s Move Cities and Towns, 500 mayors have committed to tackling obesity in their communities. They’re building bike paths, they’re planting gardens, they’re starting youth sports leagues and so much more.
You asked for practical, affordable, real-life advice to keep your kids healthy. So we launched a public service campaign and a website – letsmove.gov – with helpful tips on exercise and nutrition. The American Academy of Pediatrics is now urging doctors to not just screen kids for obesity, but to actually write out prescriptions for exercise and healthy eating. And under the Affordable Care Act – the health care law that Congress passed last year – these screenings will be fully covered by insurance so you won’t have to pay a penny out of pocket. And all of this has happened in just one year!
So if we can do all this in the first year just imagine what we’ll achieve next year, and the year after that. So we’re making some real progress here. We’re gaining momentum. But as far as we’ve come, when nearly one in three kids in this country is still overweight or obese then we’ve still got a long way to go.
And for parents like us, this isn’t just a public health threat. It’s not just some abstract issue that we read about in the newspaper. This is personal. This is emotional. It’s one of those things that keeps us lying awake at night.
All of us desperately want to keep our kids healthy. But often, we just don’t know how. Kids don’t come with an instruction manual. And while we all get plenty of advice to make sure our kids eat well and stay active what does that really mean? How do we actually do that? Where do we find the time, where do we find the money?
You see, the irony is that with all our advances in technology with all those experts and advice-givers out there, it’s actually become harder, not easier, to raise healthy kids in this country. Just think about it for a minute. Think back to when we were growing up. Back then, our TVs had only a few channels and when those Saturday morning cartoons were finished, you were done with TV for the day. Once American Bandstand and Soul Train were over, you headed outside to play and you didn’t come home until dinner. Back then, we ate meals around the table as a family and that was pretty much the only time you ate, at mealtime. I didn’t know a single child in my neighborhood who was allowed to eat whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. If you wanted a snack, you’d have to ask permission and whatever you got was limited.
In those days, fast food was a special treat. My brother and I got pizza a few times a year – as a reward for good grades when report cards came out. No one in my family believed in eating out especially not my grandmother. I will never forget the time when my brother and I begged her to get us takeout burgers and fries for lunch. We were shocked when she finally agreed. And as we sat excitedly waiting for our burgers to arrive and I swear this is true my grandmother brought out a can of peas. And, much to our horror, she promptly served us two scoops each. My grandma failed to grasp one of the key benefits of takeout for kids and that was no vegetables! Fast food or not, my grandma believed in feeding her family a balanced meal at every meal.
Back then, our society was structured so that healthy eating and exercise were natural parts of kids’ lives. We didn’t even have to think about it – that was just the way it was. But today, it’s the exact opposite.
Instead of just a few hours of cartoons on weekends, there are entire networks devoted to children’s programming. Instead of kickball and jump rope, kids sit motionless, unblinking for hours clicking, typing and texting away. Fresh fruits and vegetables have gotten more expensive, while convenience foods have gotten cheaper. And let’s be honest sometimes, as parents today, we are just plain tired. We’re working longer hours to make ends meet. We’re under more stress. We get home after a long day at work and the last thing on earth we want to do is fight with our kids about turning off the TV, or have endless negotiations about what’s for dinner.
Trust me, I’ve been there. It wasn’t so long ago that I was a working mom myself. And I know that sometimes, much as we all hate to admit it, it’s just easier to park the kids in front of the TV for a few hours, so we can pay the bills or do the laundry or just have some peace and quiet for a change. Sometimes, it’s just easier to say yes to that extra snack or dessert, because frankly, it is exhausting to keep saying no. It’s exhausting to plead with our kids to eat just one more bite of vegetables. It’s exhausting to put in the effort to make a homecooked meal when all they really want is something from the microwave or the drive-thru.
The truth is that today, we have more choices than ever about how we live and eat, but so many of those choices simply aren’t good for our kids. And little by little sometimes without us even noticing those choices have started to add up.
And the consequences go far beyond our kids’ health. For example, believe it or not, right now, nearly 27 percent of 17-24 year-olds are too overweight to serve in our military. I recently visited Fort Jackson down in South Carolina, it’s the largest facility in the country for training Army recruits. I learned that the recruits they’re seeing today are the kids who were born back when public schools across the country started cutting physical education and sports. And after years of inactivity and poor nutrition, the recruits are overweight, they’re out of shape, and they’re far more likely to injure themselves in basic training. As a result, the Army is spending millions of dollars a year in medical and dental costs just to get trainees combat-ready. So it’s now clear that the choices we’ve made aren’t just endangering our kids’ future – they’re endangering our country’s future as well.
Now, of course, parents aren’t the only ones who influence a child’s life. We know that kids are like little sponges they soak up everything they see and hear, regardless of where it comes from. They want the gadget they saw at a friend’s house, the sugary snacks they saw on TV. So we know that if we truly want to solve the issue of childhood obesity, parents can’t shoulder this burden alone, and we shouldn’t have to. But at the same time, we know that ultimately, we are the ones responsible for what our kids eat. We’re responsible for how much time they spend on the couch with that remote control. While we might not always feel like it, when it comes to our kids’ health and well-being, we’re the ones in charge.
And every day, I hear from Moms and Dads across the country who are stepping up, they’re taking control, and finding creative solutions that work for their families. They’re walking places instead of driving. Like my grandma, they’re making sure there’s a vegetable on that plate, no matter what’s for dinner. They’re changing their own habits because they know they can’t sit on the couch eating french fries while telling their kids to run around the block and eat broccoli. And they’re trying to make healthy eating fun.
Patti Howell, a mom from Los Angeles, shared one idea on the Let’s Move! Facebook page. She wrote that she and her daughters read the Nutrition Facts Panels on the foods they buy. As she put it, and this is a quote: “It’s a fun family project that is a great conversation starter and gives us a lot more to talk about!”
But parents aren’t just having an impact in their own families. They’re demanding more from their children’s schools and communities. Aaron Marks, a father from Decatur, Georgia, wasn’t happy when he found out that his four year-old son was eating pizza for breakfast at school…and donuts and cookies for snacks. So he talked to the school administrators. He joined the school’s nutrition committee. And he helped raise money to plant a garden. As he put it: “You just can’t take no for an answer. You have to be tenacious.” So it’s never easy.
But we also have to remember that we’re never alone. So the next time we battle with our kids over those vegetables, or they refuse to join us for a walk to the park, the next time we struggle to change our schools or communities, we need to remind ourselves that parents everywhere are going through exactly the same thing. We have to remember that we’re all in this together. So we need to help each other. We need to share good ideas and cheer each other on. And we need to get other parents involved in this cause.
Because ultimately, that’s really how Let’s Move! works. The truth is that executives at Walmart didn’t wake up one morning and decide to promote healthier products just for fun. Folks in Congress didn’t write the most sweeping child nutrition legislation in decades because they had extra time on their hands. They did this because folks like us stood up and asked for these changes. Because we started reading those labels, and buying those healthier products.
So if there’s one message I want to send to parents today, it’s this: we have a voice. We have a voice. And when we come together and use that voice, we can change the way companies do business. We can change the way Congress makes laws. We can transform our schools and our neighborhoods and our cities. And today, I want to urge everyone to keep using that voice, keep standing up and demanding something better for our kids.
And not just as parents. This is an important point. Because we’re not just moms and dads. We’re Little League Coaches and Girl Scout leaders. We’re parishioners and PTA members. We’re educators and small business owners. And we need to bring our perspective as parents to every single one of those roles.
We need to change things not just from the outside, but from the inside as well. We need to ask ourselves, “What can I do, through my workplace, my place of worship, my organization, to help kids in my community lead healthier lives?”
That might mean getting your office to sponsor a local youth sports league. Maybe your club or community group can adopt a local playground. And how about getting your church or place of worship involved? That’s what we’re doing through Let’s Move Faith and Communities, we’re supporting faith leaders who want to build healthier congregations.
So why not start an exercise ministry where folks inspire each other to get active. Or host cooking classes that teach families to prepare healthier meals.
We know the impact that efforts like these can have on our children. Because just as our kids soak up all the bad stuff – all the advertisements and the peer pressure – we know they soak up the good stuff as well. I see it every year when we harvest our White House garden and I watch kids actually getting excited about kale. I watch them clamor to try vegetables they’ve never heard of simply because they planted those vegetables themselves. I see it in the children I meet as I travel around the country.
Like the little boy I met last November in Newark. His teacher did a unit on healthy eating. And that afternoon, he went straight home and insisted that his mother bake, rather than fry, the fish she was cooking for dinner.
I see it in the letters I get from young people who proudly tell me what they’re doing to eat better and stay active. One little girl told me that after watching a public service announcement for Let’s Move! on TV, she and her friend put down the junk food they were eating and decided to go for a bike ride instead. And when our kids get engaged like this, when they start taking initiative, and changing their habits, that won’t just affect their generation.
I think Shemeka Hamlin-Palmer, a mom from Jackson, Mississippi, put it best when she said, “I want my son to have a long and healthy life…therefore I need to teach him healthy ways of living…and he’ll be able to teach his kids the same thing.”
So make no mistake about it, we’re not just doing this for our children, we’re doing it for our grandchildren and for their children too. That’s what we’ve always done in this country, we have struggled and sacrificed to leave something better for future generations. We’ve worked to give them opportunities that we never dreamed of for ourselves. And ultimately, that’s what we’re aiming to do with Let’s Move!
That’s what the momentum we’re seeing all across the country is really about. And today, one year later, Let’s Move! is far more than just a campaign. It is so much more than just a slogan. It’s a nationwide movement, a movement to give our kids everything they need – all the energy, strength and opportunities they need to fulfill every last bit of their potential and achieve every last one of their dreams.
As parents, we want nothing less for our kids. And as Americans, we want nothing less for this country. So let’s keep working. Let’s keep moving. And let’s keep doing everything we can to give our kids the bright futures they deserve. Thank you, and God bless.