Remarks by Michelle Obama at the Governors National Association at the JW Marriot in DC

Washington, DC – Now, I know that the focus of this year’s meeting is the issue of health care.  And over the next few days, you’re going to be talking about spiraling costs that are straining your budgets and running up all of our deficits — costs like the nearly $150 billion a year that we spend on obesity-related conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.  You’re going to talk about the staggering Medicaid burdens — and how premiums have risen three times faster than wages, often bankrupting families in your states, sinking businesses in states all across this country.  

 But we all know that there’s another set of statistics that have to be a part of this discussion — like how nearly one in three of our children in this country is now overweight or obese.  Like how one in three kids today will eventually develop diabetes — and in the African American and Hispanic communities, the number is nearly half.  Because if we think our health care costs are high now, just wait until 10 years from now.  Think about the many billions we’re going to be spending then.  Think about how high those premiums are going to be when our kids are old enough to have families of their own and businesses of their own. 

 So we all know that we can’t solve our health care problems unless we address our childhood obesity problem, too.  And that’s really why I’m here today:  to talk about the issue of childhood obesity that is so important to me and what our states and our nations can do to solve it.

 But we have to begin by understanding how we got here, what’s caused this crisis in the first place.  And I have my theories, but when you all think about it, this is a relatively new phenomenon.  This wasn’t something that we were dealing with when I was growing up.  Back when we were all growing up, most of us led lives that naturally kept us at a healthy weight.  We walked to school and we walked home, because we usually lived in communities where our schools were close.  All of us ran around all day at school, doing recess and gym because everybody had to do it.  And then when we got home, we’d be sent right back outside and told not to come back home until dinner was served.  (Laughter.)  You know your parents didn’t let you in the house. 

 And back then we ate sensibly.  We had many more home-cooked meals.  That was the norm.  And much to our dismay at the time, there was always something green on the plate.  (Laughter.)  Fast food and dessert was a special treat.  You had it but you didn’t have it every day, and the portion sizes were reasonable.  In my family I remember a couple of pints of ice cream — this was a big treat — we’d get three pints of ice cream for a family of four and that would last us a week, because you wouldn’t eat a pint, you’d get a scoop, and that would be it.  You’d savor that a spoonful at a time.

 And these weren’t arbitrary rules that our parents just made up.  As we know now, it was a way of life they imposed to help keep us active and healthy.  They knew back then that kids couldn’t and shouldn’t sit still for hours.  They knew that kids needed to run around and play.  They knew that keeping us healthy wasn’t about saying no to everything, but it was about balance and moderation.  We all had our share of burgers and fries and ice cream growing up.  We just didn’t have it every day, and not at every meal. 

 But somewhere along the line, we kind of lost that sense of perspective and moderation.  And we all want the very best for our kids just like our parents wanted for us.  But with the pressures of today’s economy, and the breakneck pace of modern life, many parents feel like the deck is stacked against them. 

They want to prepare healthy foods for their kids, but a lot of times they’re tight on money and they just can’t afford these meals.  Or oftentimes they’re tight on time because they’re juggling longer hours at work and many of them juggling multiple jobs.  So they just can’t swing coming home and making a home-cooked meal around the dinner table.  It’s hard. 

They want their kids to be active, but sometimes they live in communities where either it’s not practical to walk to school or, worse yet, it’s not safe.  Or they live in communities where gym classes and school sports are considered luxuries and not necessities — the first things to go in a budget crunch.  And those afternoons playing outside, they’ve been replaced by afternoons sitting inside in front of the TV or video games or the Internet.  And as a result, many parents feel like they’ve lost that sense of being in charge that their parents had.

But we have to be honest with ourselves:  Our kids didn’t do this to themselves.  Our kids didn’t decide whether there’s time for recess or gym class, or our kids don’t decide what’s served to them in the school cafeteria.  Our kids don’t decide whether to build playgrounds and parks in their neighborhoods or whether to bring supermarkets and farmer’s markets to their communities.  We set those priorities.  We make those decisions.  And even if it doesn’t feel like we’re in charge, we are. 

But that’s the good news because if we make these decisions here, then we can decide to solve this problem.  And that’s precisely what so many of you are doing right now in your states.  You’re experimenting and innovating.  Many of you are ignoring the naysayers and the old partisan divides, and focusing solely on what works. 

Extracts from remarks at the Governors event

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