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

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Christina Bellantoni, a senior reporter for 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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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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