WASHINGTON -- "As some of you may know, one of my first jobs was in a mayor's office -- working for Mayor Daley out in Chicago," first lady Michelle Obama told the nation's mayors Wednesday, as she enlisted them as partners in her drive against childhood obesity.
Next month, Mrs. Obama officially launches her anti-obesity initiative, and during a speech before the U.S. Conference of Mayors, she told them, "We're looking to you to be leaders on the front lines of this effort across the country."
Mrs. Obama noted that about one-third of U.S. children are obese -- with the rate much higher in African-American and Hispanic communities.
Listening on the dais as she spoke were Daley and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, a former top Daley staffer who hired Mrs. Obama at City Hall in 1991.
Mrs. Obama told the mayors that "obesity is also one of the biggest threats to the American economy" and highlighted some innovative programs that encourage kids to get and stay fit, from a farmers market in Minneapolis taking fresh produce to underserved parts of that city, to Somerville, Mass., outside of Boston, where restaurants agreed to offer low-fat menus.
She urged the mayors not to consider programs to get kids to lose weight as financial burdens, but as part of smart long range planning. The U.S. Conference of Mayors already has had some programs dealing with the youth obesity issue. Mrs. Obama was speaking to an audience open to her message.
Said Mrs. Obama, "How can you go and spend money on something like healthy school lunches when we've got overcrowded classrooms and outdated textbooks to worry about? Or, how can you build parks, or sidewalks, or bike paths when we can barely afford to keep the community health center open?
"These are fair questions. But when you step back and think about it, you realize that in the end, they're really false choices. We've all heard from teachers and principals that if kids don't have the nutrition they need to stay alert and focused in class, even the best textbooks in the world aren't going to help them learn. And we've heard from doctors and public health officials that if they don't have safe places to play right now, then a few years from now, that community health center will be even more crowded and even more of a strain on your budget," she said.
She said it may take time, "but make no mistake about it, this problem can be solved."