Remarks by the First Lady at Brinkley Middle School in Jackson, Mississippi
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, guys. (Applause.) Thank you so much. (Applause.) How you all doing? (Applause.) You excited? (Applause.) You all fired up? (Applause.) That's a good thing.
I'm just happy to be here.
AUDIENCE MEMBER: We love you! (Applause.)
MRS. OBAMA: Well, let me tell you something. The White House is a pretty neat place to live, but let me -- let me just say this. One of the best things I do is coming out of the White House and coming here to spend time with all of you. You all really do -- (applause) -- you all really help remind us what we're here for. And we're just so proud of you.
And let me start by thanking Tiffany for that beautiful introduction. (Applause.) I got to meet Tiffany backstage. And I know that the reason she got to introduce me was because she worked hard and won an essay competition to do it. And we are proud of her. We're proud of you, Tiffany, proud of the work that you're doing. (Applause.) You're a beautiful young lady, a sweetheart, and I want you to keep up whatever it is you're doing, because you're doing good things. And we're just so proud of you. (Applause.)
I also want to thank, before we get -- I want to thank a few people here, because there are a lot of people here who care about this state and care about this city; people who have done a lot to make this visit possible, who've done a lot of important groundwork to get this state in the limelight. And I want to make sure that we recognize those people -- some of them who couldn't be here, like Congressman Bennie Thompson, because he's in Washington. (Applause.) The President has him working hard in Washington and we're glad he's there working. But who came along is his wife, London, and their daughter. If you all would stand so that we can say hello. (Applause.)
And also another Congressman -- I don't think he could be here -- Gregg Harper -- he's in Washington, but his wife, Sidney, is here. Sidney, would you stand, please. (Applause.)
And I have to thank your mayor, Mayor Johnson, and his wife, Kathy. (Applause.) Got a chance to talk and meet them both. And it's not easy having the First Lady come to your city, but they have just been gracious and they worked very hard, and we're just so honored and thrilled to be here.
I also want to thank the school superintendent, Dr. Lonnie Edwards. Dr. Edwards, would you please stand? (Applause.) Because Dr. Edwards let us visit during a school day, so we've got to give him a round of applause. (Applause.)
And last but not least, I have to thank Governor Barbour and his beautiful wife, the First Lady of the state of Mississippi. They have -- they've opened their hearts to me from the very beginning of this initiative. I've said this before -- there are so many people who have been out on front on this issue long before I showed up at the White House and long before we launched "Let's Move," and Mrs. Barbour has been just a big advocate of "Let's Go Walkin'" -- that initiative is exactly the kind of things we need to replicate all over this country. And I am grateful to both the Governor and the First Lady for their hard work and their commitment and their sincerity. So let's give them another round of applause. (Applause.)
So since I've been here I went to visit Pecan Park Elementary School. Did I say that right? Pecan?
AUDIENCE: Yesss --
MRS. OBAMA: Because where I come from, sometimes you say "pecaan" -- but it's "pecon" round here, right? (Laughter.) But we got to visit that school and some of the great kids there, and I got to walk with Mrs. Barbour and the Governor and the principal there -- principal Quon -- and a couple of students around the track that they built. And the kids were out there exercising and working out. It was a beautiful day, a beautiful facility, and it's just something that we should be highlighting all over the country.
So they showed us how Mississippi, how Jackson, is working to make sure kids stay healthy and active. And that's one of the reasons why I'm here visiting Brinkley Middle School. Can I hear it? (Applause.) That's why I'm here, because we want to continue this conversation that I've been having around the country -- starting about a few weeks ago. It's an issue that I care deeply about -- not just because I'm a First Lady but because I'm a mother. And I've said this ever since I came into office -- I approach this job first as a mother. And I'm thinking about all of you all as a mother, not as a First Lady.
And we have to figure out what we can all do together in this country to help our kids in the country live healthy and active lives, and to stay that way throughout your entire lives. We care about you deeply, because too many kids right now just aren't living that way. And we all know that. Too many kids in this country don't get enough exercise and they aren't as healthy as they need to be.
And if we're honest with ourselves, as all of you know, we know that here in Mississippi, kids struggle with these issues sometimes even more than in other parts of the country. And we all know that when our kids don't eat right and they don't get enough exercise, what happens is that they're at greater risk of a whole range of preventable diseases -- things like diabetes. And a long time ago diabetes was also only something that happened in adults, and now we're seeing it more and more among kids because they're less healthy. Things like heart disease and cancer -- all these things should be older folks' issues, but we're seeing more and more of our children being -- struggling with these issues.
And what the Governor will tell you is that one of the other problems is that these preventable issues cost the state money. Here in the state of Mississippi, I think you're spending about $750 million each year to treat diseases that don't even have to exist. So that's the bad news -- right? That's the kind of stuff that we're here to fix.
But there's a lot of good news -- good news is that the folks around this country, particularly around this state and this city, have begun to focus on this issue in a real serious way. We know that a lot of this is our fault, the grownups -- right? This isn't on you all -- right? And people have gotten an important wakeup call. They're looking at the health statistics, they're looking at you guys and they're seeing the future in you, and we all know that we've got to do something. That's the good news. Finally we're waking up and we're getting moving -- right?
And that's why I wanted to come to Mississippi. I picked this state because of all the creative things that are already happening here to fix things. I'm not here to highlight what's wrong; I'm here to highlight what's right -- (applause) -- what we can do for our kids. (Applause.)
Lots of good examples, like up in Hernando, Mayor Chip Johnson is working to build more sidewalks and to bring weekly farmer's markets to town so folks in his town can be more active and eat better. And Mayor Johnson was with me when I launched "Let's Move" in Washington, D.C. That's a good thing.
Here in Jackson, there's an organization called My Brother's Keeper that's launched an initiative called "Jump Start Jackson" -- and there they're trying to bring more fresh grocers to town, and make it safe for kids to walk and bike to school.
And all across Mississippi -- and this is really key because this is where the whole state can come into play. What the Governor has done is signed a law to help make sure that schools like Brinkley are giving students more time in school to be active and to play, and that they're teaching in the curriculum every day about healthy lifestyles and doing better to serve healthier lunches here -- right -- because many of the kids here, you're eating most of your meals here at school so it's incumbent upon us to make sure that those meals are healthy.
If you think about it, before that law was signed the average school here in this state -- the lunch had more than 900 calories. That's a lot of -- that's a lot of calories in a lunch for some kids -- right? But today, they've been cutting those calories by reducing fats and sugars that are in the foods you have, and increasing more fruits and whole grains. Have you all noticed that? Some changes in your lunch? (Laughter.) Yes, I know how -- right. There's the kids, and the grownups, right? (Laughter.) But these are important things for you to know as you see the changes in the lunchroom -- they're happening for a reason.
Before that law was passed, more than three in four middle schools sold things like candy and salty snacks and soda to the kids. And now, today, because of that law, more than three in four schools don't serve those kinds of foods. And I know we've got a few unhappy faces about that, but this is a good thing.
Every day, folks here in this state prove that if we in this country are creative and we're determined and we're focused, that we can meet these challenges -- because this isn't just happening in Mississippi; it's happening all across the country -- that if we really work together we can really reverse these trends and turn back the tide. We can help you all live the kind of healthy, active lives right from the start.
The thing is if you learn these habits early -- right -- you'll carry them through -- with you for the rest of your lives. So what I have asked people to do is let's act. Let's get going. Let's move. That's why we call this initiative "Let's Move." It's about all of us getting up, getting together to make sure that our kids are living the kind of lives that we need them to live.
There's one important goal to this initiative. We are trying to end the epidemic of childhood obesity in a generation. That's a big goal -- because we want kids born today to grow up healthy and at a good weight when they reach adulthood. So that's the goal. And reaching this goal, it's an ambitious goal to talk about doing anything in a generation. It's a hard thing. But that's why we started "Let's Move," because this initiative is asking everyone in the country to do their part to reach this goal. Everyone has got to do their part.
That's why I've been traveling around the country -- and I'm going to do this for years to come -- asking everyone to step up and get involved. I've been meeting with governors and mayors; I've already met with many of them. I'm asking them to do their part to make cities and states more -- healthier; building more sidewalks, turning playgrounds into track fields, and opening up abandoned buildings, and doing a whole range of creative things to do their part.
I've been meeting with parents and I've been asking parents to do their parts, because it doesn't matter what we feed you at school, but if you get home and it's hard for parents to make healthy choices, then you guys still aren't leading healthy lives, so we've asked parents to step up and do more.
And I've been meeting with educators and school nutrition leaders, people like Mary Hill, asking them to do their part to make sure you all have options that not only are healthy but they taste good and they look good and it looks like something that you event want to try.
In a couple of weeks I'm going to even meet with the food manufacturers, the people who make the food that goes into your lunches and also the people who make food, period. (Applause.) And I'm going to be asking them to do their part, right, because if the stuff you buy in the grocery stores aren't healthier, if the options are limited, then it's hard for your families to make healthy choices.
And today I wanted to be here especially because I'm going to ask for help from the most important group of this whole entire effort, and who do you think that group is? It's you, right? It's all of you -- all of you young people. You have to do your part, too.
So I'm really asking you all to help me. Have you ever been asked by the First Lady or the President of the United States to help them? (Laughter.) Well, I am asking you for your help. You going to help me? (Applause.) All right, well let me -- but before you sign on -- (laughter) -- let me just tell you what I need you to do, because we can make all these changes in your communities, your parents can do things differently, the schools can do things differently, but if you're not open to change and ready to do your part, then it won't work either, right? I know your teachers tell you that all the time. You have to want to change, right? And it starts with the choices that you make. And this is what I tell my kids: Make healthy choices, right? When you have snack time, you've got the choice between grabbing a candy bar or the potato chips or grabbing an apple, right? And I urge my kids to just balance it out. Just think about putting a little more fruits and vegetables on that tray and then trying to eat them. Can you do that? Come on now. (Laughter.) A little less enthusiasm there. (Laughter.)
We know you have to be active and move, right? That means you can't spend hours sitting in front of the TV and video games and the computer. You have to get up and move. Can you help me with that?
MRS. OBAMA: Yes. (Laughter.) They were so excited a few minutes ago. (Laughter.)
But the President and I ask our daughters these same things. I mean, this is what we talk about at home. When we're at dinner, we ask them, what did you eat for lunch? What kind of choices did you make? Did you try a little salad? Did you put some carrots on your plate? And if you had dessert one day of the week, do you think you need to have it every day of the week? If you watch TV on Saturday all day, do you really need to watch it again on Sunday? If you haven't finished your homework, should you really be on the computer? Now these are things that we need you to start asking yourselves. You all are in middle school, right? You all are large and in charge, right?
MRS. OBAMA: So now you've got to start asking yourselves these questions, right? And you have to help your parents out, because when they ask you to make the change, what don't we want you to do, parents? Whine? (Laughter.) We don't want whining. Can you help us by not whining about a change? (Laughter.) Can you do that? Come on, Brinkley!
MRS. OBAMA: Come on. Well, this is the kind of help we're going to need from all of you. This is the kind of stuff we want you to think about as we move through this initiative, the kind of choices that you're making. And we've been working with kids your age for the entire year. At the White House we planted this wonderful garden, and we had middle school students just your age working with me every step of the way. They helped me pull up the soil and plant the seeds, and they've been at the White House several times a year, because we've just been learning what it looks like to grow your own food and eat your own food. And the thing we found out is that when kids play a role in what they do, they're much more inclined to try new stuff if they grew it. So hopefully many of you can get involved in your community gardens as well.
But that's what "Let's Move" is all about. "Let's Move" is really about you all. It's really about making things better for our kids, and that's why we're here today. You've got a community of people around you. You all should look in this room, because it's not just you up there. Back there are hundreds of people who care deeply about you, and they're all here working hard, from the President to the governor on down, because we all care about you. And it's important for you all to understand that we're here doing this for you.
So we're doing this because eventually you all are going to be in charge of all this, right? One day you're going to be the parents and the teachers and the doctors and the principals and the governors, and we need you healthy, right? We need you to be in a good, strong body so that you can get these things done.
So let me tell you a little bit about what "Let's Move" is all about, just quickly, because there are four parts. One of the things we're doing is asking your parents to make healthier choices, but we have to do a better job of making sure that they have the information that they need. So we're working with the FDA to make sure that, you know those labels that they read, that tell you what's in food? Well, it's too complicated. We've got to make that easier so that they know what's healthy and what's not. So we're trying to make that easier. We've set up a Web site called letsmove.gov. Some of you all may want to go on there, walk through that with your parents, because it gives helpful tips and strategies on what to eat and how to move. The second part of the initiative is that we're asking people to "let's move" so that parents actually have the foods and vegetables in their own communities.
Do you know that there are a lot of kids who live in communities that don't have access to a grocery store or a farmers market or a place to buy fruits and vegetables? There are about 6.5 million kids who can't walk down the street and go to a grocery store because their communities don't have grocery stores. Well, part of "Let's Move" is trying to eliminate that, because we can't tell people to buy fresh food if there's no place to buy it, right? You know how hard it is for your parents if they have to get on a bus to go get a head of lettuce and they just came home from work and they have to get in a cab to go to a grocery store -- that's hard and expensive for them, right? You all, if you've seen it, you know how hard it is. So we've got to make it easier. We've got to eliminate food deserts and make sure that there are more grocery stores and farmers markets in communities. So that's something that we're working on.
The third thing we have to do is make sure that, as I said, that more schools have healthier lunches, right -- (applause) -- because many of you are eating most of your meals at lunch. We can do an applause for that, that's a good thing. (Applause.) It's important for you to have the nutritious meals that you need at lunch. And Mississippi and Jackson, you all are already doing some wonderful things. I mentioned Mary Hill. She's your food services director. Mary, you should stand up, because these kids should know who you are because you're working hard. (Applause.)
Mary Hill is working on what you all eat, and one of the things that's happened is that you guys eat lunch with your teachers now, right? And I know that might be a hassle having them sitting at the table with you, but what that does is because the teachers are sitting with you, what they've seen is that you're more inclined to eat more fruits and vegetables, and so are your teachers. So just because of that one little change, having teachers eating with you, that changes how you eat. And that's something that's happened here in this state because of Mary, because of the governor, because of so many other people.
Here in Mississippi, another thing that's happened is that they've taken fryers out of the school and put in more ovens, right? (Applause.) And just imagine, just because of that, in Starkville, two schools in that area, they've cut out about 3 million calories -- 3 million calories -- just by not having fried potatoes. Those are the kind of little things that make a difference.
But the key, one of the real things I'm highlighting in this "Let's Move" challenge is the fourth thing, is that you all have to get moving, we all have to get moving, because you can eat the best food in the world, but if you all aren't active, it's going to be a tough thing.
So we need you all to get moving and be more active. This is where you guys come in, again, putting down the cell phones and thinking of creative things that you care about, whether it's getting your parents to do the Electric Slide or doing Dance, Dance Revolution. I don't -- it doesn't matter what it is. My kids -- me and the President and our kids play Dance, Dance Revolution. How many of you all have done that? (Applause.) That's a good game. That will make you sweat. (Laughter.)
And we need you all working, finding creative ways to stay active and get your parents active. And we're going to expand the President's Fitness Challenge so that more kids can try new things and get awards; maybe come to the White House because you're meeting some goals; working with some professional athletes from all the leagues because a lot of them have signed on to help -- people from Major League Baseball and the NBA and the NFL and WNBA. All of these professional athletes are going to be signing on to do clinics and to encourage you all to stay active.
So there's a lot of good stuff in "Let's Move." But we're going to need you all, as I said. We're going to need you all to help us get this stuff done. But know that we're doing this all for you. We care so much about your future, we really do. We're proud of every single one of you. You're like our kids. And sometimes it may not feel that way because somebody is lecturing you trying to eat food that you don't want to eat.
But we want you all to pursue your dreams, and we know all of you have big dreams. How many people here want to be a doctor? How many people here want to be a lawyer? How many people here want to be President of the United States? (Applause.) And that's the good news, right? You all obviously have some big dreams, right? Well, in order to achieve those dreams, you've got to be healthy. And you've got to feel good physically and you've got to feel good about yourselves, right? And you won't do that if you're not eating right and getting good exercise.
And it's our job as a community, as a nation, to make sure you have all the resources that you need to make it happen. So we're going to start getting moving. You all promise that you will help me with this, because I'm going to be checking in. (Applause.) You think I'm not going to check in. And you have to help each other. Do you realize that? You've got to help your teachers help you. You've got to check in on your teachers. The teachers have to check in on you. You all have to check in on your parents. You've got to get your parents working. Your parents have to check in on the mayor, make sure the mayor is doing his job. We all have to check in on the governor -- (laughter) -- make sure that -- because he's promised me he's going to get moving. (Laughter.)
And if we're all working together, you all, all of you at Brinkley and all these other schools, we can get this done, right? And then you will be President of the United States, and maybe if you're lucky you'll be the First Spouse, like me. (Laughter.)
But thank you all. We're proud of you and let's get moving. Thanks so much. (Applause.)
Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at Brinkley Middle School in Jackson, Mississippi Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320615