Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at a Let's Move! Faith and Communities Event in Longwood, Florida

February 11, 2012

MRS. OBAMA: Good morning! Oh, you rest yourselves. (Laughter.) I know you've been through a lot this morning -- a little dancing, a little working out. So you need a little rest. (Laughter.)

But I want to thank you all so much. I am beyond thrilled to be here with all of you today as we celebrate the second anniversary of "Let's Move." It's a birthday. (Applause.)

And I want to start by thanking Pastor Hunter and Becky for, oh, that very kind introduction. We love those two people very dearly. They are tremendous role models to our family, to their community, to this nation. And I am grateful that they're hosting us here today. So let's give them a wonderful round of applause. (Applause.) Thank you so much.

I also want to thank Nemours for their support for today's events and for their partnership in so many of our "Let's Move" initiatives.

And finally, I want to thank all of you. We have got folks here from more than 120 congregations and organizations representing at least 15 different faiths and denominations. But we are all (applause) -- that's wonderful. That is wonderful. And you're here on a Saturday morning, which is another wonderful thing. (Laughter.) Now, that's some commitment. Like that. (Laughter.)

But we are all here today for one very simple reason -- because we love our children, and we are determined to build a future that is worthy of their promise.

That's what so many of you are doing every day in your congregations and in your communities. Whether you volunteer with a homeless ministry of a food bank, whether you're fighting for better health care or a cleaner environment, every day, so many of you are taking on the most urgent challenges of our time.

Every day, you're serving God by serving others. Every day, you're proving that when we come together to do good works, no challenge is too big, no problem too hard, and there is no such thing as a hopeless cause. No such thing. And that, more than anything else, is the story of "Let's Move."

It's the story of a very serious challenge -- a challenge that many of us believed was too big, too complicated, too entrenched for us to solve. And that problem is our epidemic of childhood obesity -- the fact that right now, one-third of our children are overweight or obese. And they're at risk for serious conditions like diabetes, cancer, heart disease that undermine their health, that diminish their prospects, and they cost our economy billions of dollars each year.

But the story of "Let's Move" is also the story of individuals and organizations from every sector of our society who have stepped forward to meet this challenge. It's the story of food manufacturers who've pledged to cut 1.5 trillion calories from their products. Companies like Goya Foods that are giving our family the information they need to make healthy choices about what they eat. Local grocers and national chains like Walgreens, SuperValu -- they're building new supermarkets and selling fresh food in 1,500 underserved communities in this country. (Applause.)

Our restaurants are stepping up, transforming their kids' menus, loading them with healthier options. Our mayors out there across the country, they're planting gardens, they're refurbishing parks. Congress passed historic legislation to provide healthier school meals for millions of our children. (Applause.) More than 3,400 professional chefs have signed up to help local schools improve their menus.

And then there are our celebrities -- everyone from Beyonce to LeBron to Drew Brees are serving as role models, inspiring our kids to dance, dribble and pass their way to a healthier life.

And it's important to know that all these folks are doing these things not just as business leaders who are concerned about their bottom lines -- not just as elected officials serving their constituents, or as celebrities promoting a cause. They're doing this as parents and grandparents who care about our nation's children. They're doing it as citizens who know that we as a country cannot fulfill our promise unless our children can fulfill their promise. (Applause.)

And they're doing it because they know that when children here in one of the nations -- richest nations on Earth aren't getting the nutrition they need, when one in three of our children is on track to develop diabetes in their lifetimes, that means it's time for us to act. Because this isn't who we are, and it certainly isn't who we want to be.

We know that something better is possible for our children. And we are determined to solve this problem once and for all. But we know that if we truly want to end our obesity epidemic so that our kids can have a healthier future, then we have to understand how did we get here in the first place, how did we wind up here.

So I want you all to think back, think way back -- especially the grown folks like me -- think back to when many of us were kids, all those years ago. Now, the children, you might not even understand how life was back then. (Laughter.) Most of us led reasonably healthy lives. We walked to and from school every day -- rain or shine. (Applause.) Amen. And in Chicago, where I was raised, we did it in the hail, sleet, snow, gale-force winds. (Applause.) Yes, I sound just like my grandfather. Never thought I would. (Laughter.)

Back then, our TVs only had a few channels -- you remember that? (Laughter.) Just a handful of channels. And when those Saturday morning cartoons were finished, we were done with TV. That was it. It was over. (Laughter.) Once American Bandstand and Soul Train were over -- (applause) -- you had to go outside and play -- right? And back then, playing did not involve a screen or a remote control. (Laughter.) It meant actually moving your bodies. (Laughter.) It meant riding bikes, jumping double-dutch, playing tag until our mothers called us in for dinner.

And then when we ate that dinner, we all sat around the table as a family. (Applause.) Yes. And our food wasn't fancy. Because we didn't have a lot of money, the portion sizes had to be reasonable -- right? (Laughter.) There was always a vegetable on the plate. (Applause.) And we ate whatever we were served. (Applause.) My mother never cared whether my brother or I liked what was on our plate. (Laughter.) We either ate what was there, or we went to bed hungry. That was the bottom line.

And in those days, we hardly ever ate out. Fast food was considered a rare treat. In fact, I tell this story often, but I can still remember the time that my brother and I convinced our grandmother to let us have takeout burgers and fries for lunch. Now, we were shocked when she finally agreed. We could barely contain our excitement. So when the food arrived, Grandma unwrapped the burger, put it on a plate -- because you had to eat on a plate no matter what you were eating -- (laughter) -- put the fries on a plate. We were sitting there all excited, and then what does she do? She opened up a can of peas. (Laughter.) She opened up a can of a can of peas. And to our horror, she served us two scoops each. My brother and I, we were like, "Grandma, no!" (Laughter.) Because fast food or not, my grandma, she believed in feeding her family a balanced meal at every single meal. Every single meal. (Applause.)

See, back then, our society was structured so that healthy eating and exercise were just natural parts of kids' lives -- all our lives. We didn't have to think about it, that was just the way it was.

But today, unfortunately, it's the exact opposite. It's the exact opposite. Many kids no longer attend neighborhood schools, so instead of walking or riding their bikes to school, they're taking a bus or car. Instead of just a few hours of cartoons on weekends, there are entire networks devoted to children's programming and the Internet is available 24/7. That was just never an option for us. So today, when our kids go and "play," that often means they're sitting in one place for hours, clicking, typing, texting away -- not moving a lick.

And for many folks, those wholesome family meals are, unfortunately, a thing of the past. See, a lot of our families today are living in communities without a single grocery store, so they have to buy their food at places like gas stations or corner stores, places with few, if any, healthy options.

And frankly, a lot of parents today are just plain tired. Folks are working longer hours to make ends meet and everyone is under more stress. And as much as we all hate to admit it, sometimes it's just easier to park the kids in front of the TV, so that we can get a little time to pay the bills, do the laundry, just get a few hours of peace right? Just a little peace, that's all we want. (Laughter.)

Sometimes it's just easier to pick up something from the drive-through, pop something in the microwave. And if we're being honest with ourselves, we have to admit that even when we do cook, we don't always make the healthiest choices.

And that's really where this gets personal and emotional -- probably why some people think this is a very complicated issue. You see, for so many of us, food is more than just nourishment for our bodies. It's how we knit our families and our communities together. It's how we pass down traditions from generation to generation.

How many of us find ourselves looking forward to that fried chicken and mac and cheese, pound cake, after church on Sunday? (Laughter.) Some people come to church just for the fried chicken. (Laughter.) How many of us have those warm, wonderful memories of family and friends gathering in the kitchen? We still do that at the White House. It's a little, bitty kitchen

-- big, old house, everybody sitting in the kitchen. No matter where -- you're sitting in the kitchen. I'm not cooking, but -- (laughter and applause) -- but we still like the kitchen. (Laughter.) Dirtying every pot, cooking everyone's favorite dishes, talking, laughing, sharing stories late into the night. That's family.

Whether it's Christmas supper, Passover Seder, Iftar dinner, so many of our most sacred holidays revolve around food. All those familiar smells and tastes, and the memories that go along with them -- all of that brings us joy and comfort. Times may be tough and money may be tight, but at least we can still serve up Uncle Joe's ribs or Abuela's Arroz con pollo -- huh? (Applause.) That's how we show our families that we care about them. Right?

No matter what culture we come from, no matter what faith we believe in, for so many of us, food is love. Food is sometimes all we have. And that is a beautiful thing and we don't ever want to give that up -- right? And fortunately, we don't have to. Fortunately, we don't have to. We can still show that love, we can still honor those traditions, and we can do it in a way that's healthy for everyone, especially our kids. But we're going to have to make some changes, some modifications to adapt these traditions to our way of life today.

And ultimately, that's what "Let's Move" is really trying to do. We know that government doesn't have all the answers; know that there's no one-size-fits all program or policy that will solve this problem. Every family and every community is different. Each of us needs to make the changes that fit with our budgets, our beliefs, and our tastes.

And that's really where all of you come in. That's why today was such an important part of our celebration. Because that is what our faith communities do best -- you inspire and empower people to make meaningful changes in their lives. Sometimes folks won't do it if it wasn't said right here -- right? You serve as a beacon for those who are lost, a refuge for those who've been forgotten. You're there for people during some of the most important moments of their lives, offering counsel on family matters, providing comfort in times of crisis, guiding folks on every mile of their journeys. That's why people come.

And our faith communities don't tend only to folks' spiritual health but to their emotional and their physical health as well. Think for a moment about the scripture that tells us that your bodies are temples given to you by God. That is a core teaching of so many of our faiths -- a teaching that calls us to honor and nourish the bodies we've been blessed with, and to help others do the same.

So it's no accident that this church hosts classes to help folks lead healthier lives. It's no accident that, long before we ever started "Let's Move," so many congregations were already sponsoring health ministries and fitness classes, hosting food pantries and summer nutrition programs for our kids.

So as part of "Let's Move," we wanted to work with you from the very beginning. We wanted to learn from our faith communities. And we wanted to do everything we could to support and highlight your magnificent efforts. And that's why we started a special program called Let's Move Faith and Communities to challenge more of our organizations and congregations to take up this cause.

And just like everywhere else, the response to this initiative has been overwhelming. All kinds of faith communities have been stepping up. Muslim community leaders are hosting sports tournaments to encourage young people to get active. The Jewish Community Centers Association is working with JCCs around the country to grow gardens, and to get fresh food into underserved areas, and they're create early child wellness programs.

Groups like the National Council of Churches have joined with an organization called Ample Harvest to help gardeners donate fresh produce to 4,700 of their local food pantries. (Applause.) The National Baptist Convention is aiming to have health ambassadors at all of their nearly 10,000 churches by September. (Applause.) And some of their churches have already created "no fry" zones in their congregations. (Applause.)

Now, it's been a little tough. (Laughter.) But with just a little effort, the congregations have accepted this. They're also and they're hosting "Taste Test Sundays" where people can sample healthy food.

Altogether, the members of Let's Move Faith and Communities have sponsored more than 1,000 summer nutrition sites providing millions of healthy meals for children in need. And these congregations and communities have walked more than 2.8 million miles. That's very impressive. (Applause.) Very impressive.

And let's not forget that all of this represents the efforts of just a tiny fraction of our faith and community organizations. Just a tiny fraction. That's what they've done in just a short period of time.

So just imagine what we could achieve if every single organization and every single congregation in America got involved in this way. Just imagine. Imagine how many children we could feed. Imagine how many miles we'd walk. Imagine how many lives would be transformed.

So today, I have just one simple request for congregations and organizations across America, and that is: Join us. Join us. Be a part of this effort. Join us. If you're in a leadership role, make wellness a priority both with words and with deeds. Talk about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity with your members. Get organized. Get organized by creating a wellness council or a ministry, appointing a health ambassador to lead the charge.

There are so many natural leaders in our congregations who are just waiting to be tapped. Maybe there's a gardener who's been growing food in her backyard who wants to help the church out. Or maybe there's a nurse or a dietitian, a community health worker, who's eager to share their expertise. Maybe there's somebody who's just a great cook -- right -- and knows how to make some good, healthy snacks that taste good, too, right?

And once you've gotten organized, I want you to take action. Don't hold back. On this one, the sky should be the limit. You can host cooking classes or a farmers market. I just tried Zumba, which is like -- that was pretty good. (Applause.) See! We've got a lot of Zumbas. We're Zumbaing after church -- man, look out. (Laughter.)

You can take your youth group on a weekend hike, or better yet, a weekly jog. They will love the time spent with an adult. You can try substituting fresh fruit and vegetables for those donuts and coffee cake after service -- right?

And anyone who is interested for additional ideas, tools, resources, you can go directly to the website at Letsmove.gov. There are so many fun things, ways people are doing -- there are so many creative activities happening in congregations and in communities across the country. And I hope you all will be inspired to do even more.

And whatever you do, I want to know about it. Tell me about it. Whatever you're doing out in your congregations, I want you to email me, I want you to write me. Even better, I want you to send me a video of what you're doing. Because today, I'm announcing -- listen up -- that "Let's Move" is starting a video contest -- and we're asking faith and community organizations to show us the best examples of the healthy changes that you're making. And you know what, the winners -- you know what we're going to do? We're going to invite them to the White House this summer. (Applause.) Come on to the White House! Our top entrees. Because I want to meet you all in person; I want to hear about all that you're doing. So, hopefully that's a little incentive. Maybe a little fun -- the funnier, the better. You've seen me -- I love fun. (Laughter.)

So I really do hope that all of you, here and congregations and organizations across this country, will embrace these efforts on behalf of our children. Because we all know that we are our children's first and best role models. No matter what they see or hear, we're it. And if we embrace this work, our kids will embrace it. If we're excited about it, then they will be excited about it, too.

It won't be easy. But our faith communities have never shrunk from a challenge right? From slavery to civil rights, from poverty to human rights, so many of our congregations have been a force for justice and equality. (Applause.) Right? So many have been the righteous voice for the least among us, working every day, in ways large and small, to repair our world.

And today, once again, we need all of you to help lead the way on this important issue. We need your vision. We need your moral passion. As it says in this church's vision statement, it says, "A vision is a clear mental picture of a preferable future. It sees the future through the eyes of faith."

We all know the future we want for our kids. We all know that, right? No matter who those kids are, we know what we want for our kids. We want them, every single one of them -- every single one of them -- to be healthy and whole. We want them to have opportunities that we never dreamed of. We want them to have families of their own that love them. We want them to have communities that support and sustain them. And we want them to have the strength and the energy and the stamina to live their lives to the fullest -- and to raise their own children to do the same. That's how we build community. That's how we do it.

Again, while it won't be easy to make that vision a reality, I have faith that together, we will get where we need to go. I mean, it's the same faith that so many of you share -- "the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen." (Applause.) And with that faith, and with that hope, let us join together -- every single one of us -- and work together in this campaign for our children's lives.

Let's finish what we started -- this wonderful journey -- and give our kids everything they need for the bright, healthy futures they all deserve.

I look forward to working with you all in the months and years to come. Thank you all and God bless. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at a Let's Move! Faith and Communities Event in Longwood, Florida Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320327

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