First lady Michelle Obama took her battle of the bulge message to local leaders Tuesday, linking obesity to the economy at a time when cities and states are grappling with deficits and budget cuts.
Speaking to the National League of Cities Conference, Obama said that she knows that everyone is “worried about budget shortfalls,” but that addressing the epidemic of childhood obesity has an impact on the bottom line.
“You all know better than anyone that childhood obesity is already affecting your communities,” she said at a hotel in Washington, D.C. “It’s already weighing down your budgets. It’s already hampering economic growth.”
Obama’s focus on the fiscal side of fat comes as municipalities face layoffs, spending cuts, and high unemployment and as congressional leaders wrangle with the budget. She suggested that tackling childhood obesity shouldn’t be “something you get around to doing when you have the money, but as something that could affect whether you have the money in the first place.”
“So make no mistake about it: When we talk about childhood obesity, we’re talking about the workforce that you’re trying to build,” she said. “We’re talking about businesses that you’re trying to attract. We’re talking about the budgets that you’re trying to balance each and every day.”
So far, some 550 communities have signed up for the first lady’s Let's Move initiative. Launched a year ago, the program is an administration-wide effort to significantly reduce the problem of childhood obesity in a generation. Over the last year, Obama has addressed elected officials, school leaders, food manufacturers and restaurant associations as part of her efforts. Her biggest get was Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest grocery store chain, which pledged to offer healthier and lower cost foods to its millions of customers.
While Obama has garnered mostly bipartisan support for her efforts, she has not been without her critics, most notably former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn), who have suggested that Obama’s efforts are akin to a “nanny state.”
In her remarks, Obama said that local leaders “don’t have to pass sweeping new ordinances or spend a fortune to get results on this issue,” but can instead focus on simple solutions such as more gym time, sidewalks and nutritious lunches.
“You’re the ones who can spur action. You’re uniquely positioned to put our communities on a stronger, healthier and more financially sound foundation for the future,” she said, echoing her husband’s “Winning the Future” mantra. “And that’s what really this effort is all about, in the end. It’s really about our future.”