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Remarks by the First Lady to Mayors and Other Local Officials Engaged in Let's Move! Towns, Cities, and Counties

July 10, 2013

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thanks so much, everyone. Good afternoon. Please, rest. I know they've got you working hard, which is good. I like that.

Well, welcome. I want to start by thanking a few of the staff folks here who have been working so hard -- Sam, David, Dr. Koh, for all of their work to help make Let's Move Cities, Towns and Counties such a tremendous success.

I also want to thank everyone here today from the National League of Cities for all of their leadership on this effort. We could not have done it without this organization's leadership and steadfast support.

I also want to thank our friends from Kaboom. I've done a lot of Kaboom-building in my many years of living, and I can say that every experience is meaningful and impactful. So I want to thank you all for the work that you do, as well as The National Association of Counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

And of course, I want to thank Nancy for that very kind introduction and for everything she's doing to help young people in Moscow, Idaho, lead healthy, active lives. We are just so proud of everything that you're doing. It's truly amazing. And there are so many community leaders just like Nancy who are here today, and we appreciate you taking the time and making this a priority -- leaders who have stepped up on behalf of the health and well-being of our next generation. The most important part of our lives in this society is our children, and you all have demonstrated that by putting them top on your list.

So my first job here today is just to say thank you, really. It's as simple as that. Thank you. You do not have to do what you're doing. So it means a great deal, not just to me personally as the First Lady, but to all those kids that are living in your communities who are counting on all of us to get this right. Thank you. Thank you for everything you're doing for our young people. Thank you for all the work that you do day in and day out to make your communities stronger and healthier.

And let me tell you, I know that it is not easy to be you, to do what you do. You all are pulled in so many directions. You're dealing with tighter and tighter budgets. You're working to keep your local economies humming and your neighborhoods thriving. And of course, you're trying to keep everyone safe.

Yet even with all of that on your plate, you all have still made the health of our young people a priority. And you're doing it in new and innovative ways that touch so many parts of your communities.

For instance, last year in Missoula, Montana, they created Let's Move Missoula – a coalition of city and county agencies, hospitals and nonprofits, and the Chamber of Commerce. And so far, they've set healthier standards for all the vending and concessions in public space throughout the community. They've given all their fourth and fifth graders access to free open gyms with programming from the parks department. Sixth graders in that community get a free yearlong membership to the YMCA. And this summer, they're promoting an Unplug and Play Outside campaign to do one of my favorite things -- not popular in my household -- but reduce screen time and increase physical activity.

And in Knox County, Tennessee, they've worked with the city of Knoxville to create a bike and share program for the kids in that community. They've printed new maps that promote dozens of miles of wonderful bike trails and routes, and they've created a walking school bus -- and I've heard more and more of this kind of walking school bus happening all over the country -- so that kids can get exercise on the way to school, kind of like we did when we were growing up. You remember the miles of walking you did with a sweet potato in your pocket? (Laughter.) We all heard that story. My mother repeated it just yesterday. (Laughter.)

And that's what Let's Move is all about. That's what we're really trying to do here. It's about people all across this country coming together to take action to support the health of our kids. We've seen it happen in cities, towns and rural areas across the United States.

And we're proud to announce that in just the past year, more than 330 elected officials have committed to making their city or town a Let's Move community, and fulfilling the five community-wide goals that Dr. Koh outlined earlier. That means that more than 56 million Americans are now living in a community dedicated to improving nutrition and physical activity for our young people. And that's a good thing. (Applause.) Yes, absolutely. That is a very good thing.

So, like we have to do everything, together, we are making real progress on this issue. And not many people would have guessed that we'd be this far when we launched this initiative several years ago, but the fact is, though, that we still have a long way to go. We still have work to do.

And that brings me to my second job here today, and that is to ask you to keep doing what you're doing. It's as simple as that. You all are at the forefront of this work, and we need you to continue to lead the way as we work to end our country's epidemic of childhood obesity. We are in the right direction, but we need more activity. We need more leadership.

We're certainly encouraged that obesity rates are starting to decline in places like New York and in Mississippi. I was proud to visit some of the schools there who have made tremendous progress in the -- throughout the state of Mississippi because of this kind of leadership.

But we also know that that this is a challenge that simply can't be fixed in a year or two, or even 10. And I get this question all the time -- what's the cutoff when you think this will be over? And this is -- it took us a lifetime, generations to get here, and it's going to take us just as much time to turn this around.

So I want to ask you all to double down on this initiative, just to push a little bit harder on what you're doing. We need you to take the ideas and programs that you learn about here today and think about ways to adapt them for your own community if you're not already doing it.

We need you to bring more people to the table on this issue –- more faith leaders, more doctors and business owners, more principals and teachers -- and, of course, more and more parents. Because at the end of the day, the parents are the ones who make the decisions about how to guide their nutrition and physical activity of their kids in the home.

And we need you to reach out to leaders in neighboring communities. You all are here today because you are leaders. You're setting the bar very high, and we are counting on you to be that model for others, for other communities trying to figure this out. So partner with some of your colleagues on new programs whenever it seems like it's going to work. Ask them to join you and become a Let's Move community.

And as you're doing all this, trying to save your cities and balance budgets and take care of your own selves at the same time -- because you all are leaders in your own right. I'm always impressed when I see a community leader who has made some significant steps in their own personal lives and have become that role model in their cities.

But as you're doing all that, it's important for you to know that all of us here at the White House on my team, me personally, obviously, we are supporting you every step of the way. Change can be hard, and you guys are bearing the brunt of the changes that you're trying to make. And sometimes it's helpful to know that you're not alone in this.

We will be working continuously to make your jobs a little bit easier. We're going to be working with food companies and restaurants who are offering more healthy options to families so that when they go into a restaurant they have some decent choices. We've got ready-made programs and frameworks that you can apply in your communities -- new programs like Let's Move Active Schools that I'm sure you've heard about, and Let's Move Active Schools provides training and technical assistance to help incorporate physical activity into students' daily routines.

And we're also proud to announce today that after you leave, we're going to give you access to the wealth of local data from a new report just released by Dr. Chris Murray from the University of Washington and Dr. Harvey Fineberg from the Institute of Medicine. I want to thank both of them for all of their hard work on this landmark research, which you'll hear more about -- research that makes clear that poor nutrition is the single-greatest cause of preventable diseases and ailments in this country -- the single-greatest cause. Simply what we put into our bodies -- seems obvious, but we still resist that truth. Bigger even than smoking or high blood pressure is what this data will show.

Dr. Murray and Dr. Fineberg are going to talk about all of this in more detail later this afternoon so you can get a better idea of what this data presents for you. But the key here is that the data from this report goes all the way down to the county level, which means that you'll be able to see which issues are affecting your communities the most. And that means that you'll be able to connect the dots a little bit better, more efficiently, between your community's nutrition and its rates of diabetes or heart disease. You'll be able to see how much physical activity the people in your communities are reporting. And once you have all this information, you'll be able to make more effective decisions to really focus your resources and programming to find solutions that fit the needs of your community.

So we're going to do everything that we can to give you as much information and support as you need to make this work a little more easy for you, because in the end we know that you all are the ones who can make the biggest difference on this issue. There is a reason why we focused on you all -- you guys are on the ground here. You guys are the people who are touching people's lives every day. You have the power and the platform to bring leaders from across your communities together around this very issue.

And we've seen the kinds of results that you can get when you do what you do best. We have seen families empowered with better choices. We have seen kids across this country growing up healthier. We've seen entire communities coming together to take control of their children's health. We've seen it. I've traveled the country -- it is the best and most fulfilling thing that I could be doing as First Lady.

But you all are the reason why I am more confident than ever before that if we continue to make progress on this issue and we keep working together, I know that we will be able to give our kids the bright and healthy futures that they deserve. So we want you as empowered as you can be, and hopefully the rest of this afternoon will bring you more resources and support.

So roll up your sleeves, folks. We're just beginning this journey. And I am confident that if we keep doing what we're doing, we are going to end this epidemic, and we're not only going to make our kids healthier, but, as we see with the data, our communities are going to be stronger. Our costs are going to go down. It's going to make a vast improvement in this country, and hopefully we can be a model for the rest of the world.

So high hopes, high bar, but you all have just been phenomenal and I know you can do it. So good luck this afternoon. I'm going to go hang out with the President and give out some awards. (Laughter.) But I expect you to work hard and ask lots of questions, and share with one another, and we're going to keep bringing you back together to find ways that we can continue to help you.

So congratulations and keep up the great work. Thanks so much. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady to Mayors and Other Local Officials Engaged in Let's Move! Towns, Cities, and Counties Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320130

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