Politics & Government

First lady champions Let’s Move campaign’s local success

First lady Michelle Obama recognized 63 local elected officials from around the country Wednesday for their commitment to her Let’s Move! campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation.

“From the moment our kids wake up in the morning until they go to bed at night, you all are giving them countless opportunities to lead healthier lives,” Obama said at the White House.

The event commemorated the locally focused branch of the initiative, Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties, which bolsters community efforts to sustain healthier lifestyles through partnerships with the National League of Cities, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Association of Counties and several nonprofits.

She said that in politics it often seems like communities must choose to either spend tax dollars on tough issues, like economic growth, or “soft” things like parks and school lunches, but that’s a “false choice.”

“When you work to build healthier communities, companies take note, because that’s where they want to set up shop,” Obama said. “They want to create jobs in vibrant communities with strong families and healthy employees.”

Healthy living is important in creating a robust workforce, said North Miami Mayor Smith Joseph, whose city was among those recognized for its efforts. North Miami implemented community gardens to enable residents to learn about healthy foods, started summer camps and after-school programs to get kids active and has a monthly citywide bike ride.

People ranging from ages 4 to 80 participate in the on average 9.5-mile bike ride across the city, Joseph said.

Each official being recognized met the initiatives’ goals. Among those were displaying USDA’s MyPlate, a visual guide for healthy eating, in all municipal or county venues where food is served. Other goals included expanding access to more kids for meals at school and during the summer, increasing opportunities for exercise, implementing healthy and sustainable food service guidelines, and helping early child care providers use best practices for nutrition and physical activity.

Groups of school children in matching T-shirts were able to participate in a free 5k run in Independence, Mo., earlier this year through programs started with the Let’s Move! campaign in mind, said Alicia Nelson. She was also recognized at the event for her work helping the city reach all of the goals.

Working with the Let’s Move, the city has created a “Get Healthy Independence” app that lists all the city’s parks and trails, started programs at day care centers for healthy eating and exercise, and promoted free and reduced meals before, during and after the school day.

“Health impacts all parts of everyone’s lives,” said Nelson, the city’s public health manager of the disease prevention division. “It’s something that all cities should consider. Health leads to a more joyful and happy life.”

Childhood obesity has become increasingly prevalent in the last 30 years, according to the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which says rates have more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents. More than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2012, according to CDC data.

“We have changed the culture in this country in the way we live and eat,” Obama said.

But she said the job is far from done: “This is the time to double down.”