UPDATE: First lady touts childhood obesity initiative in Kansas City

Monday, July 12, 2010 | 1:03 p.m. CDT; updated 2:30 p.m. CDT, Thursday, April 7, 2011
Convention goers give a round of applause after first lady Michelle Obama delivered remarks during the 101st annual NAACP convention on Monday in Kansas City, Mo.

KANSAS CITY — A child obesity epidemic fed by fast food, sugary drinks and too much television threatens to create the first generation of American youths who live shorter lives than their parents, Michelle Obama said Monday.

The first lady was keynote speaker at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's national convention in Kansas City. She spent much of her half-hour address discussing her "Let's Move" initiative to combat child obesity.

Obama said the black community is hit especially hard by child obesity, in part because fresh fruits and vegetables often are not available in poor urban areas.

While she charmed the receptive audience with her quips about growing up in Chicago, she also took parents to task for letting their children spend an average of nearly six hours a day watching TV instead of being outside playing.

"In school, we had recess twice a day, gym class twice a week, like it or not," Obama said. "When we got home, there was no way we'd be allowed to lie around the house watching TV. Our parents made us get up and play outside. We had to get up, get out, couldn't be inside."

The 46-year-old said that while she was growing up, her family rarely ate out, usually had meals as a family, and "we ate what we were served. My mother never cared whether me or my brother liked what was on our plates. We either ate what was there, or we didn't eat."

These days children are spending too much time in convenience stores, where they walk out with roughly 350 calories worth of food and beverages — sometimes two or three times a day, Obama said.

"Taken together, all of these things have made for a perfect storm of bad habits and unhealthy choices," Obama said. "It's a lifestyle that's dooming too many of our children to a lifetime of poor health and undermining our best efforts to build them a better future."

Her four-part "Let's Move" campaign calls for better labeling of foods at restaurants, improving the quality of food in schools, encouraging children to get more exercise and making fresh fruits and vegetables available — and affordable — in all communities.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture calls areas with little access to affordable and nutritious groceries "food deserts."

According to a 2007 study, 13 percent of the nation's more than 3,100 counties qualified as food deserts a decade ago. The federal government has proposed spending $400 million a year to bring grocery stores and other healthy food retailers to underserved and rural communities, with a goal of eliminating food deserts within seven years.

"Surely the men and women of the NAACP haven't spent a century organizing and advocating and working day and night, only to raise the first generation in history that might be on track to live shorter lives than did their parents," Obama said.

Helen Pierce, an NAACP delegate from Fayetteville, N.C., said Obama's speech is a wake-up call to young people and their parents. Another delegate, Nathalie Bryant of Indianapolis, called the speech relevant to current circumstances related to overweight youths.

"What she said about food deserts, that's a really important issue that needs to be addressed," Bryant said.


Michelle Obama addressed the 101st annual NAACP convention on Monday in Kansas City.
First lady Michelle Obama delivers remarks during the 101st annual NAACP convention Monday in Kansas City, Mo. She talked about the Let’s Move! initiative and its goal of solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation.
First lady Michelle Obama, right, is introduced by NAACP Chair Roslyn Brock, before delivering remarks at the 101st annual NAACP convention.

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Ray Shapiro July 12, 2010 | 4:38 p.m.

("Obama said the black community is hit especially hard by child obesity, in part because fresh fruits and vegetables often are not available in poor urban areas.")

I have traveled and lived in poor urban areas.
A banana, an apple and fresh greens were never hard to find.
If a parent chooses not to use their spare change or food stamps to purchase fruits and vegetables, that's a different story than the one the first lady spouts.
Children in public schools in "poor urban areas" also have fruits and vegetables available from the lunch rooms, just like ALL children.
Obese children is not a disease of race. It's poor parenting...across the board.
Must be tough for all those Kansas City black children living in the state's second biggest city with no fresh fruits and vegetables. I guess it's more politically correct to infer blame on all those evil merchants who refuse to stock fresh fruits and vegetables on their shelves than the parents who's vote you so rely on....

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