Michelle Obama laying more groundwork to combat childhood obesity. Pool report. Transcript

SHARE Michelle Obama laying more groundwork to combat childhood obesity. Pool report. Transcript
SHARE Michelle Obama laying more groundwork to combat childhood obesity. Pool report. Transcript

Christina Bellantoni, a senior reporter for TalkingPointsMemo.com pool report on First Lady Michelle Obama Jan. 28, 2010 obesity event, followed by transcript of Mrs. Obama remarks.

News: Release of a childhood obesity report, some details about FLOTUS’

upcoming program to combat childhood obesity and discussion of how big a

problem it is. There were no specific mentions of the health care

legislation currently in limbo on Capitol Hill but references to

importance of this issue as it relates to overall costs.

Color: Minimal, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made a funny joke about

being a governor.

First Lady Michelle Obama joined administration health officials to

announce the release of the Surgeon General’s report about childhood

obesity at the YMCA in Alexandria, Virginia. Speaking were Dr. Regina

Benjamin, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Dr. Judith Palfrey,

President of the American Academy of Pediatrics

FLOTUS aide said the event is one more step toward the expected formal

launch in a few weeks of a major program aimed at targeting childhood

obesity. The first lady’s effort will be a new priority in the next few

months. It will be a public-private partnership, and today’s event

showcases the potential for teamwork to combat the problem, the aide

said. (Mrs. Obama has had a host of events that fall into this category,

from promotion of the White House Kitchen-Garden to speaking with health

care officials in the year President Obama has been in office.)

Before the speaking program FLOTUS and the other officials toured a YMCA

playroom that featured interactive video games that are good for groups

– bikes set up so kids can race others on a screen, a dancing game, etc.

Michelle Obama said the room (which your pool did not see) represented

the “next generation” and should be encouraged in other places.

Childhood obesity is “nothing short of a public health crisis” that is

“threatening the future of this nation,” she said.

“It’s just easier” to order pizza or go through a fast food

drive-through, especially in tough economic times, she said.

She touted schools that offer nutritious meals, exercise programs and

the need to increase these things outside of school as well.

Like she does at many events, the first lady offered a personal story

from the Obama family about how they made healthier choices. That

includes limiting TV time and keeping an eye on portion size. She said

it was “very minor stuff” like throwing in apples and water bottles into

Sasha and Malia’s school lunches.

“Small changes can lead to big results,” Obama said.

Obama: “The approach has to be ambitious … it’s got to be something

meaningful and powerful. … This won’t be easy, let’s begin with that.

This will not be easy and it won’t happen overnight.”

“It’s going to take all of us, thank God it’s not going to be solely up

to me,” Obama said. “Over generations of children we’ll need to keep

doing this.”

Sebeilus introduced the first lady as “everyone’s favorite vegetable

gardener.” Obama later called Sebelius her “partner in crime.”

The audience of about 50 people included local elected officials,

leaders from the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, reps from the YMCA, YWCA

and Childrens’ Defense Fund, HHS, Girls Inc. and the National PTA.

Virginia First Lady Maureen McDonnell, whose husband gave the GOP

rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union last night, greeted the

first lady at the event. Alexandria Mayor Bill Eullie and Rep. Jim Moran

(D-VA) also were in attendance.

In her remarks, Sebelius quipped that during the SOTU the night before

they “got a lot of exercise” standing up to applaud so often.

“If we’re really serious about turning the corner on this issue we need

everyone to be involved. we need to make this a national crisis and a

national issue,” she said.

Sebelius talked generally about health care costs going up, saying “the

unhealthier we are as a nation the more our health care costs will

continue to rise.” She said the administration has “not only a moral

obligation but economic imperative to begin to make a change.”

Sebelius offered CDC stats: The U.S. spends $1 out of every $10 health

care dollars on obesity and its complications. Almost twice today than

what spent in 1998. That totals $150B a year, more than treating all the

cancers in America, she said.

She said one element is fighting advertising and getting kids away from

the TV so, “They stop being bombarded with the ads that are particularly

aimed at children on kids’ TV.” She said a recent study shows that on

those programs, “Every 8 minutes you will have a junk food ad. … And

now those ads have spread to video games and Web sites. … That’s

another initiative we’ve got to take very seriously.”

Sebelius noted that Obama in his SOTU address talked about “the urgency

of this issue and nominated [Michelle Obama] to lead a national movement

to address it.”

FLOTUS joked about President Obama’s reference to her last night, saying

she was embarrassed and was wondering “Do I wave?”

For those who are interested, FLOTUS wore a black pinstriped pantsuit,

with a high-necked, ruffled white blouse and a wide red belt. Her hair

was down and straight.

Obama recognized Mrs. McDonnell, saying that “We are going to have a

great time working together” and she is “counting on her” to help as a

partner across the Potomac River. She added, “See you in a month at the

governors gala, so be ready to dance.” The audience laughed and

McDonnell said she and the governor are “practicing.”

Sebelius, the former governor of Kansas, joked with Mrs. McDonnell that

her own husband “still regrets” leaving the “assisted living” that is a

governor’s mansion by coming to Washington to serve in the Obama


“We’re still trying to sort that out,” Sebelius said, and the crowd


(Later, Obama addressed the joke by saying to Sebelius: “We’re glad you

moved out of assisted living … you can come over for dinner.”)

YMCA president and CEO Neil Nicoll began the event by talking about

things community partners can do to help with children’s health. “There

‘s no better way to get children moving than by putting a playground in

front yard. We need to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” he


Surgeon General Regina Benjamin talked about the “sobering” trends in

childhood obesity and detailed her report offering a “Vision for a

healthy and fit nation.” She said fitness and healthy eating should be

fun and enjoyable.

“Healthy foods should be affordable and accessible to all Americans,”

she said.

She also touted breast feeding and employer wellness programs. The

report should be posted here today:


I have a paper copy if

anyone wants it.

Benjamin said weight and BMI scores are very important but the “total

picture is much much bigger.”

“People want to live long and to live well,” she said.

Sebelius also lauded YMCA’s playroom next door: “I can’t imagine any

child not wanting to go into the room next door and hang out. I want to

hang out.”

Full remarks of both Sebelius and Benjamin can be found here later:


Palfrey said there has been an “alarming increase” in the numbers of

kids who are obese, and outlined the problems that often come

hand-in-hand with obesity: asthma, diabetes, even depression.

“It does not have to be that way,” she said.

The key is healthy nutrition and physical activity of at least 60

minutes a day, which also improves a child’s ability to learn, she said.

She talked about a program for kids and parents to “Jump around like

croaking frogs” and got some laughs. She said limiting “screen time” of

computers and televisions to two hours a day will help.

“We’re working hard to prevent obesity before it ever starts,” Palfrey

said. “No single solution is going to work for everyone.”

There were cheers for FLOTUS as motorcade arrived. Event got started

just after 1 p.m. FLOTUS concluded her remarks at 1:55 pm.

There will be a White House transcript of FLOTUS remarks only.

From the earlier White House advisory:

Dr. Regina Benjamin, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Dr. Judith

Palfrey, President of the American Academy of Pediatrics, will join

First Lady Michelle Obama to discuss the release of a paper by the

Surgeon General on the public health challenge posed by the rise in

obesity. The event will highlight the troubling health implications of

current obesity rates, particularly among children, and the importance

of involving parents, health care providers, schools, and local

communities in finding comprehensive solutions.



Office of the First Lady


For Immediate Release January 28, 2010



YMCA of Alexandria

Alexandria, Virginia

1:36 P.M. EST

MRS. OBAMA: As you know, from last night, I get embarrassed when people

stand up and clap for me. (Laughter.) I don’t really know what to do.

(Laughter.) Do I wave, do I — it’s like, please, just sit down,

everyone. (Laughter.)

Good afternoon. I’m thrilled to be here on the floor. (Laughter.)

It’s a great floor. It’s kind of a warm floor, but it’s a good floor.

Let me begin by thanking the new First Lady in the room, Maureen

McDonnell. We are going to have a great time working together. She is

already very engaged and supportive of these initiatives. And since

she’s so close I am counting on her to work alongside on some of these

issues. We’re going to see you in a month at the governors gala,

whatever they call it, so be ready to dance. (Laughter.) And welcome


MRS. McDONNELL: (Inaudible) — practice.

MRS. OBAMA: A little practice, absolutely.

Congressman Moran, again I want to thank you for all your work in this

area. I look forward to working with you. Our staffs are already

talking about some things that you’ve been working on for a very long

time, so we’re grateful for your leadership and concern and focus.

Mayor Euille, again you have been a host to me in your great city, and

you’ve done wonderful work in this area. I had a terrific time

addressing the National Conference of Mayors, and I got a very good

response from your colleagues. I know that the mayors in this country

stand ready to work on this issue. They are seeing the effects of what

everyone on this floor has talked about, in terms of childhood obesity,

and they’re ready to make some changes.

Also, Dr. Palfrey, it is an honor for us to have you with us. As I’ve

shared before, it was through our relationship with our pediatrician

that we even began as a family to start thinking about these issues.

And it’s our pediatricians and our medical community that are going to

work side by side with families throughout the country. So we’re

grateful for your support. I know that this is not a new issue for you,

and I hope that our attention to it makes your job a little bit easier.

I also want to thank all the folks at the Y for all you’re doing — Neil

Nicoll, for your work as the national leader. But I know you know as a

national leader the real work happens on the ground at these fine

facilities all throughout the country. The Y has been a leader in

ensuring that families and communities all over this country have access

to places to play. Your mobile physical unit, your PhD unit, that came

to the South Lawn helped me debut my hula-hooping skills. (Laughter.)

But I think the Ys are showing that they are thinking towards the next

stage, you know. The room that we were in is the next generation of

what Ys can be. The mobile unit is something that I didn’t grow up

with, but you’re keeping up with the changes in cultures and communities

in a way that is going to make a huge impact to the work that we have to

do in our nation.

And finally I want to thank my buddy in crime, Secretary Sebelius, for

her tremendous leadership and her tremendous friendship. We’re glad

that you moved out of assisted living. (Laughter.) I know it’s hard —

I know, I know, I’ll work on him. (Laughter.) But you can come over

for dinner or something. (Laughter.) From your work with the CDC to

the FDA, the Department of Health and Human Services is clearly at the

forefront of addressing some of our greatest health issues, and it’s

going to take their continued commitment. These grants that are coming

out, we’ve been working with your department in getting them done. Your

staff has been tremendous in moving very quickly on getting that money

out, and I’m anxious to see what all that hard work leads to. So we are

grateful not just to you but all of the thousands of people in your

agency who make us all look very good.

And finally I want to commend our new Surgeon General Dr. Benjamin who I

finally got to meet. (Laughter.) Three months on the job and we’re

already making you crazy, right? (Laughter.) But you’re doing a

terrific job just jumping right in. The report is not only timely but

it’s right on point. And your perspective, your new way of looking at

this issue, is refreshing, and again it’s right on point. It’s

presenting both the dangers of inaction, and a vision for health for

this country. It’s an incredible step in a long journey that we’ll have

to take. So we want to thank you for your important work.

So as we’ve seen, the surge in obesity in this country is nothing short

of a public health crisis, and it’s threatening our children, it’s

threatening our families, and more importantly it’s threatening the

future of this nation. Higher rates of obesity are directly linked, as

you’ve heard, to higher rates of chronic illnesses like heart disease

and cancer and diabetes. Even though type 2 diabetes is rare among

young people, more than three quarters of those who have it are obese.

In fact, the health consequences are so severe that as the Secretary

said, medical experts have warned that our children are on track to be

less healthy than we are. And there’s never been a generation of young

people who are on track to be healthier than their parents — or less

healthy than their parents.

And truly, if we’re really honest with ourselves, it’s not hard to

understand how this happens. I’ve tried to track this through my own


In some cases, it’s access. Parents have told me — I’ve seen it myself

— that they would love nothing more than to feed their kids more

healthy foods, but if you don’t live anywhere near a place that sells

fresh produce, it’s very hard to accomplish that goal.

In other cases, the issue is just convenience. At the end of a long day

— and more and more families are experiencing these long days with two

parents working and busy schedules — you just get home and you’re tired

and you pick up the phone and you order a pizza, or you go to that

drive-thru. It’s just easier. Our modern-day life makes it very

difficult for us to sit down and prepare that meal.

And a lot of times it’s affordability. In these tough economic times,

buying healthy foods unfortunately feels like a luxury for too many

families. They just can’t afford it. We’ve seen stories, we’ve heard

stories, of people who know that buying that large gallon of juice is

cheaper than buying a gallon of milk. They can’t afford to make

different choices.

And then at schools and in our communities, oftentimes it’s budget cuts

that make it more difficult. Recess and PE are gone for many kids in

communities all across this country. Parks and playgrounds and

after-school sports are few and far between in too many neighborhoods.

And for most people, the cause is really a combination of all of these

things. It’s no one particular thing. It’s everything cobbled


And let’s face it: There are really just too many pressures on parents


And I understand those pressures. I talk about this all the time. It’s

easy to live healthy when you live in the White House and you have staff

and people who are cooking for you and making sure that it’s balanced

and colorful, because I had a hard time doing it before I lived in the

White House, and that wasn’t so long ago. Barack and I were like any

working couple. I was a working mom with a husband that was busy, so

many times I was the one balancing that load and wrestling with many of

those challenges. And there were plenty of times, I tell you, that

you’d come home tired, you don’t want to hear the kids fuss, and popping

something in the microwave or picking up a burger was just heaven. It

was a Godsend.

But we were fortunate enough to have a pediatrician, as I’ve mentioned,

that kind of waved the red flag for me, as a mother, and basically

cautioned me that I had to take a look at my own children’s BMI. Now,

we went to our pediatrician all the time. I thought my kids were

perfect — they are and always will be — (laughter) — but he warned

that he was concerned that something was getting off balance, because

fortunately he was a pediatrician that worked predominantly in an

African American urban community, and he knew these trends existed, and

he was watching very closely in his client population, his patient


So again, in my eyes, my children were perfect. I didn’t see the

changes. And that’s also part of the problem, or part of the challenge.

It’s often hard to see changes in your own kids when you’re living with

them day in and day out. As parents, we all know and will readily

acknowledge broadly that kids in general — we will say we know they

don’t eat right — right? — and we know they don’t get as much exercise

as they should, generally. But we often simply don’t realize that those

kids are our kids, and our kids could be in danger of becoming obese.

We always think that only happens to someone else’s kid — and I was in

that position. We all want desperately to make the best choices for our

kids, but in this climate it’s hard to know what’s the right thing to do


So even though I wasn’t exactly sure at that time what I was supposed to

do with this information about my children’s BMI, I knew that I had to

do something; that I had to lead our family to a different way.

But the beauty was that for me over the course of a few months we

started making really minor changes. And I share this story because the

changes were so minor.

We did things like, you know, limit TV time. My kids were already

fairly active, but, you know, we cut TV time out during the week, and

that helped increase activity, because they were just running up and

down the stairs annoying me more. (Laughter.)

We paid more attention to portion size. Didn’t make a big deal out of

it, but just sort of said, listen to when you’re hungry, and when you’re

full, stop.

We reduced our intake of sugary drinks and instead encouraged our kids

to drink more water. I just put water bottles in the lunch during the

week, or we had low-fat milk. Again, didn’t make a big deal out of it

— just made the change.

We put more fruits and vegetables in our diets, again, trying to make

for a colorful palate, but you’d slip some grapes in at breakfast time,

and throw in an apple at lunch, and pester them about whether they

actually ate the apple. (Laughter.) And then you try to balance it out

with something at dinner time.

I mean, it was really very minor stuff. But these small changes

resulted in some really significant improvements. And I didn’t know it

would. It was so significant that the next time we visited our

pediatrician, he was amazed. He looked over the girls’ charts and he

said, “What on Earth are you doing?” And I said, “Really, not much, not

much.” And that’s the good news that we want to share with families,

particularly for kids: Small changes can lead to big results. They’re

not destined to this fate, and they’re not really in control what goes

into their mouths, usually.

So we know what has led to the obesity epidemic, you know. We know

inside — I mean, we’re still learning — but we kind of know. And we

know what we need to do to solve it. We just have to make the

commitment to do it. We really — each and every one of us needs to

make that commitment. We need to provide parents with better

nutritional information so that they can make better choices. We need

to give our kids healthier options at school, where many kids are

getting most of their meals. We need to make sure they’re spending less

time in front of the TV and playing videogames, and more time exercising

and having fun and doing the work of children, which is play.

But we also know that the solution can’t come from government alone.

That’s something that we just have to remind ourselves. And for many,

that’s a great relief. Everyone has to be willing to do their part to

solve this problem, and everyone has to work together to turn this

pattern around.

And that’s exactly what we hope to do through an administration-wide

initiative on child obesity that I’m going to be launching in the next

couple of weeks, along with a number of important partners.

We’re going to be bringing the federal government together, those

resources in partnerships with business, non-profit and the foundation

communities, all of whom are thrilled to be a part of this endeavor.

It’s just been refreshing to see so many people recognizing that this is

the time to step up and make some changes.

We’re going to do a number of things — again, some of them small

things. We want to create what we’re calling more healthy schools. And

these are schools that are offering more nutritious meal options during

the day. They’re providing nutritional information to children as part

of the curriculum, and they’re ensuring that children are getting the

increased exercise that we know that they need.

But we also have to focus on increasing the amount of exercise outside

of school, and no place — like the Y knows that we need to make these


We need to make healthy food options more affordable and accessible.

And that’s going to be probably one of the toughest things that we need

to do. And we need to do this in all communities: urban, rural,

everywhere. People have to have the information, they have to have

access in order to make healthy choices. There is nothing more

frustrating that will frustrate a parent more than to say that you’ve

got to buy more fruits and vegetables — but to still see the cost out

of kilter and see those goals out of reach.

So these are just some of the things that we hope to do through this

initiative. But what we know is that we have to be ambitious; that the

approach has to be ambitious. It can’t just be lockstep. It’s got to

be something meaningful and powerful.

And the other thing that I will say — and say again and again and again

— this won’t be easy. So let’s begin with that. (Laughter.) This

will not be easy and it won’t happen overnight. And it won’t happen

simply because the First Lady has made it her priority. That in and of

itself is not going to be enough. It’s going to take all of us. Thank

God it’s not going to be solely up to me. (Laughter.) But it’s going

to take all of us — parents, schools, communities — working together

for a very long time, over a sustained period of time. Over generations

of children will need to keep doing this.

But I have every confidence, based on the level of energy that I’ve

seen, based on the willingness of people to deal with this issue across

party lines, the willingness of the business community to be a part of

the solution. Every sign that we’ve seen over the course of moving to

this rollout has been nothing but positive.

And of course parents are ready and willing. We all want to make the

best choices for our children. We just need to know how. And if we

continue to do that, if we work with our physicians, if we work with our

Surgeon General, if we’ve got the government, the federal government,

working together, businesses ready to make the sacrifices, then we can

tackle this problem. And we can do something really important for our

kids. We can hand them the future that we know they’re going to need to

be successful.

So I am excited. And I look forward to working with all of you over the

next years to make this not just a dream but to make this movement a


So thank you all for the work that you’ve done so far. And we have a

lot more work to do. So thank you so much. (Applause.)

END 1:54 P.M. EST

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