ABC News’ Yunji de Nies Reports:
First Lady Michelle Obama gave a preview of her new major initiative to combat childhood obesity today, telling the nation's mayors that the problem is not only one of the biggest threats to the economy, but that it is also impeding the health and well-being of at least a third of American children.
"Over the past year, I’ve been thinking, reading and speaking a lot about this issue, but the statistics never fail to take my breath away,” Mrs. Obama said in a speech at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, “Right now, nearly one third of children in America are overweight or obese – one in three. And one third of all children today will eventually suffer from diabetes – in the African American and Latino communities, it goes up to almost half.”
The First Lady will announce a broad initiative, what she called “a movement,” to address the issue next month. Staffers say it will be rooted in four key areas:
1. Healthy lunches, healthy schools2. Physical education 3. Access and affordability to healthy foods 4. A consumer campaign to publicize the issue ”The idea here is very simple: to put in place commonsense, innovative solutions that empower families and communities to make healthy decisions for their kids,” Mrs. Obama explained, “That includes increasing the number of “healthy schools” where kids have access to nutritious food; providing more opportunities for kids to be physically active; ensuring that affordable healthy food is available in more communities; and giving parents the information they need to make good choices for themselves and their families.”
Mrs. Obama first floated the idea of a broad initiative to key cabinet members, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, at a meeting with the White House Domestic Policy Council last November. The First Lady spoke for about 15 minutes at the hour long meeting, telling the agency heads she hoped to engage many of them in what promises to be a wide-ranging effort.
But the First Lady’s policy director, Jocelyn Frye, said the East Wing has been focused on the issue from the day the Obamas moved into the White House. She explained that Mrs. Obama’s White House Kitchen Garden was part of laying the groundwork leading up to this initiative. Her staff saw the organic vegetable patch as an easy way to engage the public, particularly kids.
“This was an issue that was on our radar screen,” Frye said, “We didn’t just want to do the garden just to have a garden. I think it was really a vehicle for talking about healthy eating and focusing on children’s health.”
Mrs. Obama will be holding at least three more events around this issue before the formal launch in the second week of February. Frye said the First Lady wanted to begin by publicly addressing the mayor’s conference, because she is hoping draw a lot of participation at the local level. ”She knows full well that this is not a problem solved by the government simply telling people, ‘Do this.’ She’s gotta engage people at every level and the mayors are a really critical part of that,” Frye said.
Mrs. Obama echoed that sentiment.
“That this isn’t a problem that can be solved from on high. This isn’t something that will be fixed by just a bill in Congress or an executive order from the President,” she told the mayors, “This has nothing to do with whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, liberal or conservative. It’s about the kind of future we want for our kids. And it’s about whether we’re willing to use both our policies and our bully pulpits to build that future.”
FLOTUS fashion watch: Mrs. Obama changed her outfit from the morning's event at the White House just a few hours earlier. She wore a gray, lavender and purple patterned dress, with a clear belt, topped with a three quarter length sleeve purple coat.