Michelle Obama: My challenge to you


— It has been five years since I started Let’s Move!, an initiative to address childhood obesity and help all our kids grow up healthy. And as we mark this fifth anniversary, we’re celebrating how far we’ve come, we’re challenging ourselves to do even more, and we’re committing to be true champions for this issue in the years ahead. That’s our theme for this anniversary year: Celebrate, challenge, champion.

We certainly have plenty to celebrate. Over the past five years, we have seen a real cultural shift across our country. Food and beverage companies are racing to cut sugar, salt, and fat from their products. Cities, towns, and counties are supporting healthy after-school programs and youth sports leagues. Faith leaders are educating their congregations about healthy eating and physical activity. Restaurants are offering healthier versions of their dishes, and fast food places are even including apple slices and low-fat milk in their kids’ meals.

Through Let’s Move!, we’re reaching millions of kids every day: 1.6 million kids are attending healthier day cares, where fruits and vegetables have replaced cookies and juice. More than 30 million kids are eating healthier school lunches. Nearly 9 million kids participate in our Active Schools program and get 60 minutes of physical activity a day, and nearly 5 million kids will be attending healthier after-school programs in the next five years.

Taken together, these efforts are starting to have an impact: Childhood obesity rates have finally stopped rising — and obesity rates are actually falling among our youngest children.

But let’s be very clear: While the progress we’ve made is impressive, the statistics are still daunting.

About one in three kids in this country is still overweight or obese — for African-American and Hispanic kids, it’s nearly 40%. We still spend nearly $200 billion a year on obesity-related health care costs, and that figure will jump to nearly $350 billion a year by 2018 — a 75% increase in just three years. So imagine what those numbers will look like in five years — or 10 or 50 — if we don’t keep pushing forward.

That brings us to the “challenge” part of our anniversary theme. We cannot just pat ourselves on the back and say: “Job well done.” We know that if we get complacent, then we will go right back to where we started. So we all need to challenge each other to do all that we can on behalf of our kids.

We need to protect the progress we’ve made on healthier school lunches, and we need more schools to find new ways to get kids active before, during, and after the school day. We need more cities to create safe walking routes to schools and restore bike paths and hiking trails so families can get active. And we need to be more creative in spreading the word about healthy eating and physical activity.

For example, we recently launched #GimmeFive — an online campaign through which you share five ways you’re leading a healthy life and then challenge someone else to “gimme five” more ways to get active or eat healthy — do five pushups, try five new recipes, take the stairs instead of the elevator for five days in a row. The vice president has done it, as have Beyonce, Ryan Seacrest, Dwyane Wade, and so many other kids, parents, teachers, and community leaders across the country.

And finally, I want to challenge everyone to take a stand for healthy choices with their wallets. Because at the end of the day, we know who has the real power: It’s consumers.

With every product we buy at the grocery store, we’re casting our vote for the kind of food we want for our families. And if we keep demanding healthier choices, then companies will provide those choices.

This won’t be easy, and it won’t happen overnight. This problem has been decades in the making, and it will take decades to solve. And that’s what the last part of our theme — “champion” — is about.

Truly being a champion for our kids means investing for the long term — not for just a year or two, but for a generation and beyond. That’s what I intend to do. I have no intention of slowing down on this issue in the years ahead.

I’m going to keep working with all those who have been working for change on this issue for so long. And I am confident that if we all keep pushing forward, day after day, year after year, we will finally be able to give our kids the healthy futures they so richly deserve.

Michelle Obama is the first lady of the United States. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.