Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit

February 26, 2015

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much! (Applause.) Well, good morning, everyone! Are you guys hanging in there after our big snow? (Laughter.) It is a pleasure -- I'm checking for my water. I've got a little bit of a cough, so I apologize in advance. But it is truly a pleasure and an honor to be here with all of you today.

I want to start by thanking Dave not just for that wonderful introduction, but for his outstanding efforts on behalf of our kids. Let's give Dave a round of applause. (Applause.) I also want to thank Larry Soler, Jim Gavin for their terrific leadership. I want to thank the PHA Board and all the staff for the amazing job that they do every single day.

And of course, I want to recognize the folks responsible for this year's outstanding commitments: Blue Sea Development, Urban Ventures and Vitus Group; Vintners; all the new partners for PHA's Healthier Campus Initiative; and all the new supporters of Let's Move! Active Schools. And I understand that you'll be hearing some exciting news from Mercedes Benz USA tomorrow. So let's give all of these folks another round of applause. (Applause.)

And finally, most importantly, I want to thank all of you. Many of you were out there fighting for our kids' health long before I came to this issue as First Lady. And I just want you to know how grateful I am to all of you and how inspired I am by you. And I am so proud to be with you today as we kick off the fifth anniversary -- five years -- of Let's Move! Five years! (Applause.) Feels like my child. How fast they grow. (Laughter.)

Now, our theme for this anniversary is "Celebrate, Challenge, Champion." We are celebrating how far we've come. We're challenging ourselves to do even more. And we're committing to be true champions for this issue for the next five years and beyond. And I want to start off today by doing a little celebrating, because over the past five years, we have truly changed the culture around healthy eating and living in this country.

Just think about how much things have changed. Food companies are racing like never before to create healthier versions of their products. Even convenience stores are selling fruits and vegetables. Head to the local drive-thru, and kids' meals might include apples and skim milk. Hit the aisles of the nearest Walmart and you'll find new healthy labels on their products.

Schools are growing gardens. They're moving beyond just pizza and tater tots to lunches filled with fresh produce and whole grains. Companies are actually rewarding employees for eating right and going to the gym. And it seems like everyone's running out to buy those fitness bracelets.

Five years ago, all this stuff would have been considered cutting-edge, but now, today, it's our new norm. And get this: just two weeks ago, when the Georgetown women's basketball team played Xavier, they had a "Hail to Kale" night -- (laughter) -- where the first 100 fans received free kale. (Applause.) Now, that definitely wasn't happening five years ago.

So I think that we can all agree that the culture change we've seen is truly breathtaking, especially when you think back to where we were when we first launched Let's Move! Remember the reaction we got back then? I don't know if all of you were there, but I remember.

Now, there were plenty of folks who were in favor of taking on childhood obesity, but there were also the cynics who said that this was big government run amok, the nanny state telling you what to feed your kids. Other folks felt like this issue was too "soft," too "First Lady-ish." And some were disappointed that we weren't focusing on a more "serious" issue.

But you all knew better. You knew what the experts were telling us. For years, doctors and nurses had been sounding the alarm as younger and younger kids were developing diabetes and high blood pressure. Military officials were warning that about half of all recruits were failing the Army's Entry Physical Fitness Test. And the military was spending millions of dollars fixing broken bones and rotting teeth caused by poor nutrition.

Businesses were struggling with rising health care costs. Parents were anxious about their kids' health and self-esteem. Most of these folks didn't have big marketing budgets or special interests lobbying for them in Washington, so too often, their concerns simply weren't being heard.

But together, we helped give them a voice. Together, we helped them take on this issue in their homes, in their schools and in their communities. And the results have been beyond anything we could have ever imagined.

I mean, just think about what our work together means for a child born today. Maybe that child will be one of the 1.6 million kids attending healthier daycare centers where fruits and vegetables have replaced cookies and juice. And when that child starts school, maybe she'll be one of the over 30 million kids eating the healthier school lunches that we fought for. Maybe she'll be -- yes! (Applause.) Maybe she'll be one of the 2 million kids with a Let's Move! salad bar in her school, or one of the nearly 9 million kids in Let's Move! Active Schools who are getting 60 minutes of physical activity a day, or one of the 5 million kids soon attending healthier after-school programs. (Applause.)

Maybe that child will be one of the 70 million people living in Let's Move! City, Towns or Counties so she can walk to school on new sidewalks, participate in a summer meal program, join a local athletic league. Maybe that child will be one of the 3.6 million folks in underserved areas who finally have somewhere to buy groceries –- groceries that are a whole lot healthier since food and beverage companies cut 6.4 trillion calories from their products. (Applause.)

And maybe that child's family will eat at one of the thousands of chain restaurants like Subway that have created healthier kids' menus. Maybe they'll stay at a Hyatt Hotel, where that child will be one of half a million kids a year who get fruits or vegetables and low-fat milk with every meal. Maybe that family will attend a place of worship where a Let's Move! Faith and Communities leader will teach them about healthy eating, or get active in a national park through our Let's Move! Outside initiative, or catch a healthy eating exhibit at one of the nearly 700 Let's Move! Museums and Gardens.

So make no mistake about it, for the past five years, we have been addressing this issue from every angle. And taken together, these changes are finally starting to have an impact. Childhood obesity rates have finally stopped rising, and obesity rates are actually falling among our youngest children. So -- yes! (Applause.)

So we've got a whole lot to celebrate on this fifth anniversary of Let's Move! But let's be clear: While the progress we've made is impressive, it's also incredibly fragile. We are just beginning to move the needle on this issue. We're just beginning to see the change that you've been fighting for decades. And despite this progress, you know the statistics are still daunting.

About one in three kids in this country today is still overweight or obese. For African American and Hispanic kids, it's nearly 40 percent. We still spend nearly $200 billion a year on obesity-related health care costs -– and that figure will jump to nearly $350 billion a year by 2018. That's a 75-percent increase in just three years. So imagine what those numbers will look like in 10 or 20 or 50 years if we don't keep the pressure on.

And this is really where the "Challenge" part of our anniversary theme comes in. See, we know that we can't just pat ourselves on the back and say "job well done." Because if we start to lose focus, if we take our foot off the pedal for even a single minute, then we will go right back to where we started. Because plenty of folks out there are just waiting for us to get complacent or bored and move on to the next trendy issue. And there are plenty of special interests whose first priority is not our kids' health.

And these folks have a lot at stake in this battle. Let's not forget how swiftly they reacted once we started making traction. The school lunch bill is a perfect example. They started lobbying Congress, launching media campaigns. And even today, some folks are still arguing that we just can't afford to serve our kids healthy food, that it's too expensive. And unfortunately, these tactics often work because that's what gets headlines these days –- conflict, negativity, fear.

So that's why you won't see many news stories today about the success of the school lunch improvements; about how 90 percent of schools have successfully implemented the new standards, or about how many kids are happily eating those healthier meals. (Applause.) There are not enough voices talking about how, when we're spending hundreds of billions of dollars treating obesity-related diseases, we can't afford not to give our kids nutritious food. (Applause.)

So ultimately, that's on us. We can't just sit back and feel virtuous because we're doing the right thing for our kids. We have to get in the game. We need to be out there every day tweeting, instagramming, myth-busting. We need to use every tool at our disposal –- social media, marketing and advertising, even some old-fashioned community organizing.

For example, you all just saw a sneak peak of FNV, right, a new campaign -- marketing campaign for fruits and vegetables. That campaign is going to be amazing. It's exciting. It's fresh. It's clever. See, that's what I'm talking about. (Laughter.) If folks are going to pour money into marketing unhealthy foods, then let's fight back with ads for healthy foods, right? Let's do this. (Applause.)

Let's do more viral campaigns like #GimmeFive, which is our online anniversary campaign where folks are challenging each other to do five new healthy things -– do five pushups, try five new recipes, take the stairs -- or that slow elevator -- (laughter) -- for five days in a row -- or don't take the slow elevator.

And folks all across the country have accepted this challenge. Beyoncé has done it. Ryan Seacrest. Vice President Biden will be doing it. And I also hear -- (laughter) -- that President Obama might do it too.

So we've even made #GimmeFive the theme of this year's White House Easter Egg Roll. That's the kind of fun, viral campaign that will keep the focus on this issue in the months and years ahead. And we also need you to step up too. So "Gimme Five," and then pass it on.

We're also going to need to do more of the organizing that we saw around the school nutrition bill, where groups like the PTA and the American Heart Association wrote letters, met with legislators, got themselves in the newspapers and on TV.

And finally, most important of all, let's get folks to decide with their wallets. Because at the end of the day, we know who has the real power here, and it is not the special interests -- it is consumers. With every product people buy at the grocery store, they're casting their vote for the kind of food they want for their families. And if we keep giving moms and dads the information and support they need to demand healthier choices, then companies will provide those choices.

So we've got our work cut out for us. And I want to be very clear: I might be in my final stretch as First Lady, but I have no intention of slowing down on this issue. (Applause.) I do not have a one- or two-year horizon for this work. I have a rest-of-my-life horizon, and I know that all of you do too. Because that's what it's going to take.

And that brings me to the "Champion" part of our fifth anniversary theme. Because that's what it means to truly be a champion for our kids. It means investing for the long term.

For example, just recently, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation committed to investing $500 million dollars over the next decade –- and that's on top of the $500 million they already invested over the past decade -- yes! (Applause.) Now I know that most of us don't have a billion dollars to offer -- (laughter) -- but every single one of us should be making a Robert Wood Johnson kind of investment at our own scale.

That's the kind of long-term commitment we need. Because we will not solve this problem in just a few months or a few years. This problem has been decades in the making, and it's going to take decades for us to solve. And the stakes are far too high to turn back now. I see it in the eyes of every child I meet. I hear it in the letters I get from kids across the country. Day after day, kids sharing with me the challenges they face as they try to stay healthy.

They tell me about being diagnosed with asthma. About being warned they're in danger of diabetes. About feeling tired and sick, and struggling to keep up with their friends, and worrying that things will never change. I hear from these kids. But then I hear how these kids get help. They learn about healthier eating at school. They seek out a parent, a doctor, a coach for advice. And then they start transforming themselves, their eating habits. They start getting active. And the difference this makes in their lives, you know, is just extraordinary.

One young woman told me that the healthy recipes and tips on the Let's Move! website -- and this is a quote from her -- she said, it "truly opened my eyes to what I can do." Young man told me about how he finally stopped eating, as he put it, "ridiculous portions" of junk food, and he started exercising five days a week. And he said that this experience had -- these are his words -- he said, "has helped me become a better person and be better at everything I do." Another young woman wrote that she went from feeling badly about herself to "feeling like I could move mountains." Those are her words. She said, I feel like I can "move mountains."

See, that's exactly how I want every young person in this country to feel. I want them to feel like they can move mountains. And more than anything else, that's what's at stake -- not just our kids' health, but their confidence, their ability to live life to the very fullest.

These kids are our future. They're our future workforce, our future innovators and leaders and dreamers. And as parents, there is nothing we would not do for them -- nothing. So as a country, we should meet that exact same standard. We should do everything we possibly can to give our kids every chance to fulfill their boundless potential -- every chance.

And I know it won't be easy. It hasn't been easy so far. But I've seen what all of you are capable of, and I've seen what we're capable of when we come together and we work toward this issue. Just look at the last five years -- amazing. I know how much talent and creativity and expertise is in this room today. And we need you to use everything you've got –- every skill, every idea, every connection –- to help us solve this problem once and for all.

And if we do this, if we all keep on digging deep and pushing forward, if we are tougher and savvier and more strategic than ever before, then I am confident that together, we can give our kids the bright, healthy futures they so richly deserve.

So thank you. Thank you all for everything you've done, everything you will continue to do. Happy anniversary. I look forward to working with you all in the years ahead. Thanks so much. (Applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at the Partnership for a Healthier America Summit Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/321821

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