FRIDAY, OCTOBER 16TH, 2009 AT 10:28 AM
The First Lady on Keeping America Healthy and Strong
Posted by Erin Edgerton
First Lady Michelle Obama visited the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) this week to thank HHS employees for their dedication to public health and discuss the issue of childhood obesity, a subject about which she feels passionately.
After a warm welcome from HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Ms. Obama thanked HHS employees for their dedication to keeping America healthy and strong, paying special attention to the individuals on stage with her who had each devoted more than 40 years to working at HHS.
She then turned her attention to the issue of childhood obesity, citing a statistic that nearly a third of all children in the country are overweight or obese, with that number rising to one half in African American and Hispanic communities. Focusing on the profound implications of these growing numbers, Ms. Obama discussed her concern over the diminished quality of life for affected children and the projection that, for this first time in the history of the nation, the next generation may be on track to having a shorter life span than their parents.
Ms. Obama recognized the challenges that today’s parents, especially working mothers, face in consistently providing nutritious foods for their children and shared some of her personal stories with this struggle.
And I know this feeling. You've had a long day at work -- you know, I remember this two years ago before we got here. (Laughter.) While I was working and campaigning for my husband and trying to take care of two kids, I remember coming home from a meeting or from an event just tired -- tired -- (laughter) -- and knowing that you're going home to an empty refrigerator -- (laughter) -- and kids who are hungry -- (laughter) -- and fussy -- (laughter) -- and not wanting to eat anything you have in mind. (Laughter.) All they want is some pizza and some burgers, right? (Laughter.) And you don't want to argue. You want a peaceful meal. (Laughter.) You want everyone to be quiet and just eat. (Laughter and applause.)
And it is in those moments -- and for me there were many -- where you just give in and just get that take-out. (Laughter.) Get them what they want. See "Drive-thru." It's like heaven. You drive through. (Laughter.) It's quick, it's easy.
So there was a time when I was living this life. And then I got a little tap on my shoulder from our kids' pediatrician who basically said, "You know, you may want to look at changing the way your children are eating," because he could see the effects. And I was shocked. I thought we all had our stuff together. (Laughter.)
But it's a little startling when somebody tells you you need to, you know, rethink things. So you just try to figure out, well, where do you begin, what do you change, how can you change things? But what I found was that if we start small and not try to bite off too much, if we just added a few more fruits and vegetables into every single meal, if we cut down on sugary drinks and processed fruit -- foods, that we could see some changes. And one of the things we tried not to ever do was be totally rigid; you know, just make kids so afraid of vegetables -- (laughter) -- that they would never, ever want to enjoy a meal.
But we worked on achieving moderation in our lives, teaching our kids about different types of foods, and what they do to their bodies, and eventually we got into a routine that worked for our family. And the biggest challenge was just figuring out where to start, and not letting it overwhelm you, or me. I'm talking to myself now. (Laughter.)
In closing, Ms. Obama discussed the $1 billion included by Congress and the President in the Recovery Act for prevention and wellness programs but also stressed the crucial role that parents play in their children’s lives.
We can change the way that we see ourselves, our relationship with food and exercise, and we can pass on a whole 'nother set of habits to our children. Their fate isn't set yet. We still have everything in our power, because the other beautiful thing is that kids change quickly. Their habits are easily broken. They are so malleable, and they're waiting for the right information, the right opportunities, and once they have it, they just go.
Read the full remarks online. Visit CDC.gov to learn more about the contributing factors, prevalence, and statistics of childhood obesity and get tips for parents interested encouraging healthy eating habits.