Kansas City, MO – Michelle Obama was in Kansas City yesterday, where she addressed the national NAACP convention. The First Lady warned the longest running civil rights group not to take their accomplishments for granted. She said a new threat is facing the next generation of African Americans. And as KCUR's Elana Gordon reports, she challenged everyone to 'get up' - literally - and do something about it.
First Lady Michelle Obama's battle cry yesterday was pretty loud and clear:
"Will you move with me?" she asked the crowd. "Let's move!"
That's right, 'let's move'.
The First Lady says people need to start exercising and eating better. And she says they need to help create an environment that makes it easier for kids to do the same. She says that's because childhood obesity has reached a tipping point.
"We are living today in a time where we are decades beyond slavery, we are decades beyond Jim Crow, when one of greatest risks to our children's future is their own health," she said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now reports that one in three kids in the United States is obese. The rates have tripled over the last ten years. And while it's affected scores of people of all races, it's a lot more common among African Americans.
Michelle Obama told the crowd that part of the problem is children's lifestyles are much different today compared to how they were when she was growing up.
"Our parents made us get up and play outside. We had to get up," she said. "And get out. We didn't, couldn't be inside. And we would spend hours riding bikes, playing freeze tag, jumping Double Dutch - kids nowadays don't even know how to play Double Dutch!"
She says a combination of factors - like the rise in fast food, the decline in physical activities, and the lack of access to fresh produce have dramatically changed things.
"So many kids can't attend neighborhood schools or don't," she said. "So instead of walking to school, they're riding a car or are in a bus. And in too many schools, recess and gym class have been slashed because of budget cuts. Fears about safety mean those afternoons outside replaced by afternoons inside with TVs, video games, internet."
Michelle Obama told those at the convention that the current environment has created the perfect storm for a national health crisis. And she said addressing it will require more than focusing on individuals and families.
"We are bringing together governors and mayors, bus, community groups, you name it," she said. "Because it is going to take all of us to help our kids lead healthier lives right from the beginning."
The First Lady said some of the solutions lie in policies - like making school lunches more nutritious, establishing fitness standards, and limiting what's in vending machines. She says it also means providing incentives to open up more grocery stores in communities that don't have them. And, she told the crowd that for her, the solution also means setting an example for her children, along with the rest of the country, through her own nutritional decisions.
After the First Lady's speech, I met up with Joseph Cotton, who's waiting to get his blood pressure and sugar checked at the NAACP's health fair. The organization's providing such screenings on a daily basis. Cotton's traveled to the convention from New Mexico. He says Michelle Obama's address was a wake-up call for him.
"I've always thought that my kids need to eat the right things, but I've also given in to my kids by taking McDonalds to school for lunch," Cotton says. "And treating. The treats we give our kids are not necessarily good things. They could be things that's gonna set a pattern for them in their lifestyle where eating healthy might not be as important because we've actually programmed that it's ok to go to Baskin Robbins. It's ok to continue to go to McDonalds everyday, eat pizza . And I'm bad about that. So now I'm going to look at things different."
But, that doesn't mean completely eliminating those treats...At least according to Michelle Obama. She said during her speech that for her and her kids, it's about moderation and providing healthier options. And that, the First Lady says, will make all the difference in combating this obesity epidemic.
Funding for health care coverage on KCUR has been provided by the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City.
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