WASHINGTON–First Lady Michelle Obama touted breastfeeding in a speech aimed at improving healthy eating habits at child care centers as a way to reduce youth obesity.
Click here for my February column on how Mrs. Obama planned to speak out more to remove barriers to breastfeeding. The subject turnout out to be a bit controversial, so for the record this is what Kristina Schake, Mrs. Obama’s communications chief, told me then:”Breastfeeding is a very personal choice for every woman. We are trying to make it easier for those who choose to do it.”
On Wednesday, Mrs. Obama said one part of the healthy nutrition equation for the very young was “supporting mothers who choose to breastfeed. Whether we do it in our workplaces or in our child care facilities, breastfeeding, as we have learned, is one of the ways to reduce the level of obesity in a child. The longer a mother can breastfeed, the better off a child will be on a whole range of health issues. And I know here at CentroNia that you all are working to make sure that mothers can bring their milk to their child on a daily basis. Those are the kind of things that workplaces — that we all need to understand is an important part of a family’s well being and a child’s health.”
Office of the First Lady
For Immediate Release June 8, 2011
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
AT LET’S MOVE! CHILD CARE ANNOUNCEMENT
CentroNia Child Care Center
12:21 P.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Everyone, please be seated. Hello. Hola!
MRS. OBAMA: Doesn’t get any better than that. (Laughter.)
But I am just thrilled and delighted to be here.
First, I want to thank General Cartwright for that moving testimony as well as his introduction. This is an example of where the several issues that I work on intersect so nicely. And I think General Cartwright made it very clear how health and nutrition, our child care facilities, the work that we do to support our military families, this is all about the same thing in so many ways. And we are so grateful for his leadership and his service and his family’s sacrifice on so many issues, particularly these. We are grateful, and I am so sorry you didn’t get the nap. (Laughter.) I know we did promise it, but you didn’t get snack time, either. (Laughter.)
I also want to thank Secretary Sebelius for joining us today as well as her work. And I have to say, Secretary, it’s actually called The Dougie, not The Doogie. (Laughter.) It’s okay, you know. I know your cool factor just went down by one, but it’s okay. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: You had to call me out.
MRS. OBAMA: I had to. I said it back there. I said I’m calling her out, calling her out.
But obviously all the progress that we have made, we could not have done it without her leadership, without her staff support, and we are again so grateful to you for being so focused on these issues. Thank you again for being here.
I also want to thank Renata Claros and Myrna Peralta also for hosting us in this wonderful facility. You all are doing some magnificent work here at CentroNia. It is amazing, and I’m so glad that we had the cameras on to see the quality of care that you all provide here.
Just want to thank a few other people, as well: Dr. Jim Gavin, who is from the Partnership for Healthy America — Healthier America; David Lissy from Bright Horizons Family Solutions; David Bailey from Nemours Foundation; Linda Smith from NACCRRA. All of these groups have come together today to help put together this event and the initiative that we’re announcing today.
Again, I am thrilled to be here. Este es un lugar maravilloso. (Laughter and applause.) I can say that because it is absolutely true. That is easy to say. This is a perfect setting for us to launch our latest effort with “Let’s Move.”
As many of you know, for almost a year and a half we’ve been bringing folks together to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity. We’ve been working with some of our biggest corporations and non-profit organizations across the country. We’ve been signing up hundreds of schools for the HealthierUS School Challenge. We’ve been kicking off efforts to enlist support from folks all over this country — chefs, and health professionals, mayors, and faith leaders.
But in addition to all of this work, we’ve also been doing a lot of listening, as well. And one of the things that we’ve heard across the board — from child care providers to health experts to moms and dads — it is how vital it is to get our kids started on the path to a healthy life from the very beginning.
These early years are pivotal. When you look at the statistics — and Secretary Sebelius talked about some of them — but more than half of obese children become overweight before their second birthday. It starts that early.
Obesity rates among kids ages two to five have doubled in the last few decades. And some children as young as three are showing warning signs of heart disease. And that wasn’t always the — that wasn’t something that many of us grew up — these statistics didn’t exist when many of us were younger.
And with more than half of our nation’s kids under the age of five in some type of child care arrangement, day care facilities and home-based providers oftentimes play a very central role in providing the healthy foundations that our kids need.
And that’s why we are so excited to launch our Let’s Move Child Care. Through this initiative, we’re going to be providing Let’s Move Child Care participants with an easy checklist so providers know some very easy steps that they can take to make kids healthy.
And it’s as simple as five steps. That’s the beauty of this stuff. It’s not complicated. It is not costly. It’s just a matter of knowledge and implementation.
One of the steps — one to two hours of physical activity, things that we saw up in the playroom. It is not easy to make young kids sit still. (Laughter.) They like to move. So that’s their natural way of being. You just have to give them the environment, and a couple of balls, and some plastic containers, and have them move for a couple hours a day.
The second is limiting screen time for all kids, but making sure we eliminate it for kids under two. And I know a lot of parents get shocked by that — not the TV! — but that’s one of those small things at an early age that keeps kids, their minds active. It forces us as parents to engage them in a different way. So turning off the TV, creating some limits is another one of the steps.
The third is serving a fruit or a vegetable at every meal. At every meal. Not just once in a while but at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and throwing it in at snack time, as well.
This is one I like, the fourth one: Serve only water, low-fat milk, or 100 percent juice. That’s something that a lot of parents don’t understand, is the high level of sugar content that are in the average juice box juice drink. And if kids are geared towards drinking milk and water, that’s all they’re ultimately going to want anyway, and that is going to be a huge lifesaver, at no cost for most families.
And finally, supporting mothers who choose to breastfeed. Whether we do it in our workplaces or in our child care facilities, breastfeeding, as we have learned, is one of the ways to reduce the level of obesity in a child. The longer a mother can breastfeed, the better off a child will be on a whole range of health issues. And I know here at CentroNia that you all are working to make sure that mothers can bring their milk to their child on a daily basis. Those are the kind of things that workplaces — that we all need to understand is an important part of a family’s well being and a child’s health.
And with the help of the Nemours Foundation and NACCRRA, we have the tools and the information that can help parents and providers answer questions and implement the checklist either in their environments or in their homes. So all people have to do to get more information is to go to letsmove.gov or they can also go to healthykidshealthyfuture.org to learn more.
On these websites there will be plenty of how-to tips and ideas to help create a healthier environment for kids. It’s as simple as that.
But, you know, the one thing that you won’t need for this, you won’t need a fundraising plan. No one’s going to need to start a capital campaign to take part in Let’s Move Child Care. No one’s going to have to hire new staff or completely overhaul their programming.
Here at CentroNia you all have found ways to save money in how you feed these young people, or at least keep the costs neutral. So there are ways to implement these five simple steps in a way that doesn’t have to require more funding.
But everyone is going to see that these small changes can make a big difference. And that’s been the beauty of “Let’s Move.” We’re not talking about grand-scale changes. These are small, basic, simple things that people have to reincorporate into our lives at every level because what we have learned is that if our kids get into the habit of getting up and playing again, and turning off the TV, and finding other ways to engage themselves other than the computer, which is wonderful but it shouldn’t be the only way, if they relearn how to do that, that’s a good thing.
We know that if we open up children’s palates to new tastes — I mean, one of the things we watched upstairs — babies, little bitty babies eating salad and fish and strawberries and mashed sweet potatoes, and loving it, because that’s what they’re used to eating — that that’s going to — starting that at an early age is going to set their palates for what they will eat and what they can tolerate. You’ve seen that here.
And if they’re not glued to the TV screen all day, those are the things that set the stage for habits for a healthy life early on. Just small pieces of information; things we want to make sure people know. Whether they — and how they implement it, that’s a whole different story. But a lot of families don’t even know.
All of this comes as a response to parents across the country who have voiced their support for healthier child care centers. Again, moms and dads know. They are relying on these health care centers. Many of them would much rather be at home with their own kids doing this, but they can’t. So they come to places like this, and they are counting on all of you, all of us, to make sure these options don’t thwart what they’re trying to do in their home. And we’re so excited that many child care providers are already committing to implement the checklist at their facilities.
The Department of Defense is signing up all of its facilities, which, as the General mentioned, is serving more than 200,000 children each day. So they’re on board.
Head Start is going to be encouraging its programs to meet this goal, so they’re on board.
The General Services Administration will enlist 100 percent of their facilities, which serve nearly 10,000 kids to follow this checklist.
And through our Let’s Move Cities and Towns program that we’ve also launched, we have several mayors in places like Omaha, Nebraska; and Greenville, South Carolina; and Avondale, Arizona that are coming up and making commitments to improve the child care in their communities.
The Partnership for a Healthier America is working with private providers like Bright Horizons. That’s the nation’s second largest private child care provider, and they’re going to implement this checklist at nearly 600 child care centers across the country.
So we already have commitments that are going to affect hundreds of thousands of children today. Again, that’s why we’re excited to be able to launch this. That’s why these partners here today are so important, because we wouldn’t have this announcement if we didn’t have the folks ready to step up and invest and get the ball rolling and be the models as CentroNia is to show we can do this, and it can work, and it can work really, really well.
And I got to see a lot of that, walking around this morning. I saw and heard about all the steps they’ve taken right here right in our own community that include — they cook their own meals on-site. They have a chef who cares deeply about what she is doing and how she is feeding the kids and the quality of the food, and that information is then being used to educate families.
I saw the menu — fish — it was a good-looking lunch. (Laughter.) Let me tell you. And I haven’t had lunch yet, and I was tempted to take a strawberry, but I thought, you know, that might not look that good — First Lady stealing food from children. (Laughter.) So I left their plates alone. But I was hungry.
But they are serving their own meals and doing it in a cost-neutral way, and expanding that to the employees of the center. I understand you all have the opportunity to buy this good food, and I hope everybody is, because it was really good. (Laughter.)
And they serve their meals family-style, which is — seems like a small thing, but sitting down — how old were the little ones we were sitting with? Babies. Little itty-bitty babies, right? They were serving themselves, using the tongs, learning manners, having conversation — not with real sentences or anything — (laughter) — but all the expression that goes along with sitting at the table and having a glass of milk and passing the food.
The ritual of sitting down and re-introducing that activity into the life of kids, it also helps them balance what they eat, because if you’re not just sitting down, chowing down, you can moderate what you eat because the meal isn’t just about feeding yourself physically. It’s about feeding your emotional soul. So they serve it family-style. And this is also a learning tool for the young kids here.
And they’ve been using the MyPlate, just to put another plug in there for MyPlate. We haven’t talked about that enough. (Laughter.) But learning, helping the kids understand the proportions that they need, that they mostly should be eating fruits and vegetables at each meal; that protein is a smaller portion, and, you know, that — what is a grain? I mean, all of that is going on right now in the school at mealtime. It is beautiful.
They use local parks and community spaces so that the kids can get outside on a regular basis. They planted a garden for fresh foods, which security wouldn’t let me see — (laughter) — but I got the picture. It’s there.
They built a dance studio that we got to see, where a lot of good moves happen — even The Dougie. (Laughter.)
And they’ve plopped a playground on the top of their roof here, which, again, I didn’t get to see that, either, but I know that it’s nice.
And now — and this is interesting outcomes — the nurse here says that the number of kids visiting her office with stomachaches has dropped significantly. Immediate benefits. Things we take for granted at how our kids eat and what they put in their body affects how they feel every day, which then it in turns affects how they perform each day.
They say that they’re noticing that more children will try new foods, again, because if you’re introducing it at 12 months and 20 months, then it’s not so foreign when they’re four.
And since kids like what they’re trying, they’re even asking their parents for healthy things like salad once they come home. And let me tell you, a lot of parents say, how do I get my kids to enjoy vegetables? We have to give them to them. I mean, that’s really the simple answer. They have to eat it and eat it regularly until they understand that this is the new flavor, this is how it tastes, this is how the crunch feels. They have to play around with their food, in a way.
And that’s really what this is all about. Just like the drawings they sketch here, they find their way to the refrigerator, just like the songs that they sing here start to echo throughout their homes, all of these healthy habits that the kids here are learning will also find their way home, and these young people, as small as they are, will become leaders in their own homes, because they’re going to ask for things that their parents never knew they would even try.
And that’s why I am so excited about Let’s Move Child Care, because I know that child care facilities and home-based providers can be a real building block for an entire generation of healthy kids. That’s the power that you all have, and the potential and the opportunity.
So I want to thank you for sharing this wonderful few hours with me. It has been truly joyful. Your children are amazing. And that must mean they have some amazing parents, and I know some of them are here, because many of the employees have children who go here. (Applause.) So well done.
The staff here is incredible. You can tell in just a few short minutes that they care deeply about these kids, and the kids care deeply about them, because they certainly weren’t coming to us. (Laughter.) They knew who they were with.
So I congratulate you on the success that you’ve had. Our goal is to show you off as a model. I know that there are many other facilities around the country that are doing cutting-edge things. Our goal is to lift them up, give people tools and steps, if they choose to implement this, to show them that there is a way and there are people who have done it and can give some guidance and some support. So we are grateful to you all for the work that you have done. And I look forward to working more with you in the months and years ahead.
So let’s just keep on moving. Thank you so much. (Applause.)
END 12:41 P.M. EDT