By Michelle Obama
Monday, August 2, 2010; A13
Last spring, a class of fifth-grade students from Bancroft Elementary School in the District descended on the South Lawn of the White House to help us dig, mulch, water and plant our very first kitchen garden. In the months that followed, those same students came back to check on the garden's progress and taste the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor. Together, they helped us spark a national conversation about the role that food plays in helping us all live healthy lives.
For years our nation has been struggling with an epidemic of childhood obesity. We've all heard the statistics: how one in three children in this country are either overweight or obese, with even higher rates among African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. We know that one in three kids will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives. We've seen the cost to our economy -- how we're spending almost $150 billion every year to treat obesity-related conditions. And we know that if we don't act now, those costs will just keep rising.
None of us wants that future for our children or our country. That's the idea behind "Let's Move!" -- a nationwide campaign started this year with a single and very ambitious goal: solving the problem of childhood obesity in a generation, so kids born today can reach adulthood at a healthy weight.
"Let's Move!" is helping parents get the tools they need to keep their families healthy and fit. It's helping grocery stores serve communities that don't have access to fresh foods. And it's finding new ways to help America's children stay physically active.
But even if we all work to help our kids lead healthy lives at home, they also need to stay healthy and active at school. The last thing parents need or want is to see the progress they're making at home lost during the school day.
Right now, our country has a major opportunity to make our schools and our children healthier. It's an opportunity we haven't seen in years, and one that is too important to let pass by.
The Child Nutrition Bill working its way through Congress has support from both Democrats and Republicans. This groundbreaking legislation will bring fundamental change to schools and improve the food options available to our children.
To start, the bill will make it easier for the tens of millions of children who participate in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program -- and many others who are eligible but not enrolled -- to get the nutritious meals they need to do their best. It will set higher nutritional standards for school meals by requiring more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while reducing fat and salt. It will offer rewards to schools that meet those standards. And it will help eliminate junk food from vending machines and a la carte lines -- a major step that is supported by parents, health-experts, and many in the food and beverage industry.
Over the past year, I have met with community leaders and stakeholders from across the country -- parents and teachers, school board members and principals, suppliers and food service workers -- about the importance of making sure every child in America has access to nutritious meals at school. They all want what's best for our children, and they all know how critical it is that we keep making progress.
That's why it is so important that Congress pass this bill as soon as possible. We owe it to the children who aren't reaching their potential because they're not getting the nutrition they need during the day. We owe it to the parents who are working to keep their families healthy and looking for a little support along the way. We owe it to the schools that are trying to make progress but don't have the resources they need. And we owe it to our country -- because our prosperity depends on the health and vitality of the next generation.
Changes like these are just the beginning, and we've got a long way to go to reach our goals. But if we work together and each do our part, I'm confident that we can give our children the opportunities they need to succeed -- and the energy, strength and endurance to seize those opportunities.
The writer is first lady of the United States.