Health and Fitness

Remarks by the First Lady at Let’s Move! Back-to-school Event and Let’s Move! Active Schools Announcement

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–September 6, 2013 – 1:05 P.M. EDT

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, hello.  How’s everyone doing?  It is a pleasure and an honor to be with all of you here today at Orr Elementary School!  Yay, Orr!  (Applause.)  We have a few Orr fans in the house.  (Laughter.)  Thank you all for hosting us today.

I want to start by, of course, thanking Shaq for that very kind introduction, but for also being one of the few people on Earth who can make me feel small.  (Laughter.)  I know I can always wear my heels when Shaq is around, so I appreciate that.

I also want to thank Dominique Dawes, who is here joining us.  And I want to thank her, as well as Allison for their passionate commitment to inspiring our young people.  Hi. 

And of course, I want to give a huge thank you to Uli and to Reebok and the BOKS program.  Along with Nike and nine other organizations, they are truly the driving force behind Let’s Move Active Schools.  And I have to say that it is really inspiring to see two big competitors like Nike and Reebok coming together on behalf of our kids.  And I truly look forward to seeing more companies join our efforts to get our kids moving.

I also want to thank Chancellor Henderson for her leadership in signing up the entire D.C. Public School District for Let’s Move Active Schools.  And I hope that every school district in America will follow D.C.’s lead.

And finally, I want to thank all of you who have come here today.  You all have devoted your lives to educating our children.  And as we begin this new school year, I know that, as always, you’re going to be working hard to engage and inspire your students and prepare them to succeed in school and in life. 

And that’s really why I wanted to be here with you today, because more than anything else, that’s what Let’s Move is all about.  That has been our goal right from the very beginning:  To ensure that all of our children grow up healthy and have the bright futures we all know they deserve. 

Now, back when we first started Let’s Move, I have to be honest with you, I had a few doubts about how much we could actually accomplish.  The problem of childhood obesity was so complex.  The statistics were staggering, and so many people were skeptical about our chances to make a real difference. 

We were told that people wouldn’t change because they’re to set in their ways.  We were told that companies wouldn’t change because selling bad food is good business.  We were told that kids wouldn’t change because they would never eat healthy food, so why bother?

But let me tell you, there were plenty of times with all that drumming around that I had to ask myself, can we really make a difference here?  Well today, just three-and-a-half years later, we now have an answer to that question, and the answer is yes.  Yes we can.

Just look at the numbers:  Between 2008 and 2011, for the first time in decades — you hear me — for the first time in decades, obesity rates among low-income preschoolers dropped in 19 states and territories across this country.  (Applause.)  And child obesity rates are falling in cities like New York and Philadelphia; in states like California and Mississippi.  In fact, back when we started Lets Move, Mississippi was known as one of least healthy states in America.  But today, they’re reporting a 13 percent drop in obesity rates in elementary school kids in that state. 

So the statistics clearly show that with all of the work that people are doing to address this epidemic, we’re actually starting to move the needle on this issue.  And this isn’t just some blip or fluke.  And it didn’t just happen on its own.  It happened because people across this country decided that they wanted something better for our kids, so they started making some changes. 

They started making changes in their homes, schools, in their businesses and communities.  They started making changes in laws and policies.  And today, we’re seeing the results — the kind of results that we could never have imagined when we first started out.

For example, turn on the TV, and instead of seeing nothing but ads for greasy, fried foods, you’ll see fast food ads for egg white breakfast sandwiches and chicken wraps bursting with lettuce.  Sit down for a meal at Red Lobster or Olive Garden and you’ll find kids’ menus filled not just with nuggets and fries and soda, but with veggies and fruits and whole grains and low-fat milk.  Stop by your local Walmart and you’ll no longer have to search for healthy options, but you can find aisles packed with affordable fresh produce, with prominently placed products with reduced sugar, fat and salt. 

We’re seeing changes in our cities as mayors are building grocery stores in underserved neighborhoods, refurbishing playgrounds and bike paths so that kids have safe places to play.  We’re seeing changes in our armed forces as military leaders have grown tired of dealing with skyrocketing costs associated with training overweight and out-of-shape recruits.  So they’re starting to serve healthier food on their bases.  They’re educating their troops about nutrition because they’ve realized that this issue doesn’t just affect our health, it affects our national security too. 

And as all of you know, our schools are stepping up too.  You all are growing gardens, installing salad bars, replacing fryers with steamers.  And parents are leading the way at home — adjusting those portion sizes, reading those food labels and thinking really hard about the foods they cook and order and buy for their families.

And because we as adults have started to act, because we as adults have started to invest our time and energy and resources into solving this problem, our kids are starting to get it too.  I can’t tell you how many stories we’ve heard about kids who worked in a garden at their school or church and then ran home and requested vegetables for a snack.  Or they saw a cooking demonstration in the cafeteria, and that night they asked their parents to bake their dinner instead of frying it.

I even visited a childcare center right here in D.C. where I watched toddlers happily devour a meal of grilled tilapia, mixed salad, green beans and skim milk.  These were kids two, three years old.  The center was located in a struggling community right here, but the staff made serving healthy food a top priority.  They even employed a local chef. 

Let me tell you, those kids cleaned their plates.  They did it because they were used to getting nutritious food every day.  It was all they ever knew.  So they were happy and satisfied.  And since we started Let’s Move, 10,000 childcare centers across America have committed to serving healthier food like this to our youngest children so that they get off to the right start.

So make no mistake about it, we are changing the conversation in this country.  We are creating a cultural shift in how we live and eat.  And our efforts are beginning to have a real impact on our children’s lives. 

But I want to be very clear that while we’re finally beginning to make some progress, we still have a very long way to go before we solve this problem.  But right now, we are truly at a pivotal moment, do you hear me?  A tipping point when the message is just starting to break through, when new habits are just beginning to take hold and we’re seeing the very first glimmer of the kind of transformational change that we are capable of making in this country — us. 

And if we keep pushing forward, we have the potential to transform the health of an entire generation of young people.  We can do that.  And that’s where you all come in, because as educators, you all play such a pivotal role in this effort. 

I mean, our kids spend more than half their waking hours each day with you in your schools — thank you.  (Laughter.)  And many of them eat two meals a day at school, which means they get more than half their daily calories from those meals.  And while we as parents are the first and most important role models for our kids, educators are not far behind. 

That was certainly true for me back when I was growing up.  Let me tell you, I vividly remember the words of some of my earliest teachers –- as far back as first and second grade.  What they taught me often meant as much as what I was learning from my parents at home.  And many of those lessons are still ringing in my head today.

You all have so much influence over our kids.  And you aren’t just teaching our kids important lessons in the classroom, but you’re teaching them important lessons in the gymnasium, in the cafeteria as well.  Because with every meal you serve here in these schools, with every moment of physical activity you work into their day, you are teaching our kids habits and preferences that will them last a lifetime.

And I know it’s not always easy to get your students to do the right thing.  I know that kids occasionally grumble about eating healthier food.  But look, that is to be expected.  Because frankly, that’s what kids do — (laughter) — including my own kids.  They want what they want when they want it, regardless of whether it’s good for them or not.  And when they don’t get what they want, they complain.  That’s their job.  (Laughter.)

But we have to remember that it’s our job as responsible adults in their lives to make the hard decisions to keep them healthy.  It’s our job to say, no, you cannot have a candy bar for breakfast; and yes, you have to eat some vegetables every day; and no, you can’t sit around playing video games all day
— go outside and run.  That’s our job.  That’s on us.

Kids complain about everything.  Many kids complain about having to learn math or science, right?  They complain about having to read a book or write a paper on a topic they don’t like.  But as educators and parents, we don’t just give in and say, well, okay, no more homework, no test tomorrow; you’re off the hook because you’re sad about it.  (Laughter.)  

We wouldn’t dream of doing that, because we know that learning how to add and subtract and read and write — these things aren’t negotiable.  We know that they need those skills in order to succeed in life. 

Well, the same thing is true for good nutrition, physical activity –- because those tools are the foundation that they need to grow up healthy, and to do well in school, and to build families and careers of their own one day. 

So it should come as no surprise that, as schools implement the new school lunch standards, there will be some kids who will moan and groan.  But we can’t lose sight of the fact that across the country, these new standards are having a resounding effect.  We’re seeing success.  And every day, we’re hearing that kids are actually enjoying the healthier food in their lunches, not just because it makes them feel good but because they also taste good too. 

So as you approach this new school year, and you’re out there working hard and doing your best to implement these new changes, don’t ever forget that what we’re doing is working, and what we’re doing is good for our kids.  Don’t lose sight of that.

So I want you guys to keep pushing forward.  If we do that, then I know that all those kids that you are dealing with will one day thank you for sticking with it and fighting for them.  One day when they are happy and healthy and successful, they’re going to look back and be grateful that you stood strong for their best interests.  That’s the kind of difference you all can make.

And just imagine what’s going to happen when every school across this country is fully engaged and committed to the kinds of changes you all are making here at Orr.  Think about what it will mean for every child in this country to get nutritious food and physical activity every day.  Think about how much healthier they’re going to be.  Think about how much more energy they’re going to have.  Think about how much more focus they’ll have in classroom. 

And this isn’t some pie-in-the-sky proposition.  We have everything we need, right now, to get this done.  But it’s going to take educators and parents and community leaders like all of you leading the way. 

So we need each of you to do your part.  And we need you to embrace this mission with enthusiasm and with confidence.  Because make no mistake about it, your level of commitment here will determine how successful we are.  If you’re not bought in, trust me, your students won’t be either.  But if you’re excited about this process, your kids will be too.  Because our children follow our lead, and right now, they need us to be leaders on this issue. 

They need us to guide them just as we do in so many other aspects of their life, because all signs show that what we’re doing is working.  And we’re right on the cusp of something big and lasting.  So we cannot allow ourselves to get tired or distracted, or to feel inconvenienced.  We cannot pull back just as we’re starting to make headway.  Because if we do that, if we take our foot off the gas pedal for one second, we will slip right back to where we started.

Instead, we need to double down.  We need to be energized and inspired on behalf of our kids.  We need each of you to go back to your principals and your superintendents, to your teachers and your schools today, and keep pushing them to implement those new lunch standards. 

We need you to get your kids excited about having better food in their schools, engage them in creating the menus that they like and learning about what’s on their plates and what they enjoy eating.  Start getting them pumped up now for the new healthy snacks that are going to be in their school vending machines next year. 

And finally, we need you — every single one of you — to go to your school districts to ask them to follow D.C.’s lead and sign up for Let’s Move Active Schools.  Because we’re currently on track to raising the most inactive generation in our nation’s history.  And it’s time for us to do something about it, starting right now.  We need to get our kids moving before, during and after school.

We need to ensure that they have positive early experiences with being active so that they make it a lifelong habit.  Because being active doesn’t just improve their physical health, as Uli said, it improves their emotional health, their academic performance.  In fact, kids who are active may perform up to 40 percent better on tests, and they are 50 [15] percent more likely to go to college.  That’s the difference that we’re talking about here, and that’s why we started Let’s Move Active Schools. 

This program provides everything our schools need to get our kids moving -– free training and resources, technical support call centers staffed with experts, and so much more.  So let’s get every school in America on board as soon as possible, because we don’t have time to waste.  Right now, our generation is facing so many devastating health problems because of how we live and how we eat –- illnesses like diabetes and heart disease and cancer that cause so much suffering and cost our economy billions every day — every year.

And today, we need to ask ourselves:  Are we going to hand down these problems to our next generation, or are we going to do what we’ve always done in this country and leave something better for our children and our grandchildren?  I think we all know the answer to that question, because in the end, that’s who we are as Americans.  That’s what we do.  We work and we struggle and we sacrifice so that our next generation can have opportunities we never dreamed of.

And in the end, we are counting on all of you to carry on this proud legacy.  And please know that I’m going to be right there with you every step of the way, pushing, prodding, hula-hooping, jumping rope.  I am going to do everything in my power to help get this done, because the health of our children is my greatest priority.  Believe me.

And if we keep on coming together and working together, then I am confident that we can give our children futures worthy of their boundless promise.

So I want to thank you all again for everything you’ve done and everything you will continue to do.  And congratulations, again, on all your successes here at Orr Elementary School.  And I look forward to working with all of you in the months and years ahead. 

So now we’re going to get busy and have some fun with kids.  Thank you all.  God bless.

1:24 P.M. EDT