Michelle Obama asks governors to address childhood obesity

By Dan Balz
Saturday, February 20, 2010; 1:07 PM

First lady Michelle Obama appealed Saturday to the nation's governors to join in her initiative to reduce childhood obesity, saying years of handwringing over what has become a national crisis should give way to coordinated action by Washington and the states.

Hers was a rare appearance by a first lady at the annual winter meeting of the National Governors Association, adding luster and many additional cameras and attendees at the opening session of the group's three-day gathering in Washington.

The governors arrived facing one of the bleakest fiscal situations in many years, their budgets ravaged by the deep recession, with no relief on the horizon. States already closed a budget gap that collectively added up to $87 billion in fiscal 2010, but a new assessment projects a $134 billion gap that will have to be closed through fiscal 2012.

From a fiscal standpoint the worst probably is yet to come, said Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas (R ), NGA chairman.

There was bipartisan agreement among the handful of governors who attended the opening news conference that the federal stimulus bill had helped states make it through last year's financial crisis.

In her speech, Obama cited the goals of her recently announced Let's Move initiative and praised many of the governors for the work already underway in the states. "There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this problem," she said.

She also said that while the nation needs a comprehensive approach to fighting childhood obesity, "that doesn't necessarily mean an expensive approach."

Obama noted that childhood obesity is a relatively new health problem in America, reflecting new habits and patterns in family life that have increased the consumption of processed or fast foods and reduced the amount of time children spend each day in physical exercise.

"We have to be honest to ourselves," she said. "Our kids didn't do this to themselves."

The Let's Move initiative includes four major goals: providing parents with the information and support they need to help their children eat properly, ensuring that schools offer more healthful food, helping children get regular physical activity and ensuring that healthful food is available in all areas and neighborhoods.

Warning that "our kids can't afford for us to get this wrong," Obama said, "let's stop wringing our hands and citing statistics. Let's move."

Highlighting the need for regular physical activity, the first lady talked about a music video game that turns dancing into exercise.

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