(examiner.com) At the recent Congressional Black Caucus on September 16th, 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama explained childhood obesity had become a national epidemic and was particularly bad in black communities.
One thing that Mrs. Obama promoted was early obesity prevention through breastfeeding, especially in the black community where 40 percent of babies never get breast-fed at all, even in the first weeks of life, and babies that are breast-fed are less likely to be obese as children.
The fact is, black moms still have the lowest breastfeeding rates of all ethnicities. And when it comes to the gold standard of infant nutrition — six months of exclusive breastfeeding — the rate among African-Americans is only 20% compared to 40% among whites
One of the reasons why I wanted to be here today, because I want to talk with you about another issue that I believe presents an urgent threat to the health and well-being of our young people — and that is the epidemic of childhood obesity that affects every community in this country –- but it affects the African American community in particular.
You just heard the statistics. They’re all too familiar: how nearly 40 percent of African American kids are overweight or obese. Nearly one in two –- that is half of our children –- will develop diabetes in some point in their lives.
But I also know how easy it is to rattle off those numbers, and to shake our heads, and move on, because in the black community especially, these persistent health problems can become so routine that we come to expect it, sometimes even tolerate it. And it’s a lot harder to really feel what those statistics mean, because the truth is that in too many of our communities, childhood obesity has become that kind of slow, quiet, everyday threat that doesn’t always appear to warrant the headline urgency of some of the other issues that we face.
The fact is that many of us, and many of the folks that we know and love, have struggled with our weight.
And often, it becomes the kind of thing that we just sort of accept as part of our daily lives, as something we know we should do something about, but we always push it off until later. It winds up taking a backburner to more pressing issues like crumbling schools, and neighborhoods that aren’t safe, and families that can’t pay the bills or even put food on the table.
But today, I just want us to step back for a moment and ask ourselves some hard questions about what childhood obesity really means for the prospects of our next generation.
We should ask ourselves what does it mean when we hear stories of doctors seeing obesity-related conditions like type II diabetes in children that they only used to see in adults?
And what does it mean when our kids go through life feeling unwell, not having the energy to run around and play and enjoy their childhood today, and not having the stamina and the strength they will need to build successful careers and keep up with their own kids and grandkids in the future?
And what does it mean when study after study shows that regular exercise and proper nutrition significantly improves academic performance, but that many of our kids aren’t getting enough of either?
What does it mean when, because so many of our kids are struggling with obesity, some experts are now saying that our kids might be the first generation in history on track to lead shorter lives than their parents?
I mean, we’ve got to think about that. I mean, think about the fact that we may have reached a point where a future generation will be worse, and not better, than the one before.
See, I think it means we’ve got a pretty big problem on our hands, and one that we should be taking just as seriously as all those other hot button, front-burner issues we’ve all been fighting so hard to address.
I think it means that we as a community, and as a nation, need to make solving childhood obesity a top priority for our kids’ future.
I think we need to make a commitment –- not just for a few months, or a few years, but a long-term commitment to do what it takes to solve this problem once and for all, because the truth is that short-term, one-off efforts simply aren’t going to cut it.
Childhood obesity isn’t some simple, discrete issue. There’s no one cause we can pinpoint. There’s no one program we can fund to make it go away. Rather, it’s an issue that touches on every aspect of how we live and how we work.
And we can’t just declare that our kids need to get more exercise when they don’t have parks to play in or safe streets to walk on.(Applause.)
We can’t just tell folks to put more fruits and vegetables on the dinner table when many a family lives miles from the nearest grocery store. (Applause.)
And we certainly can’t demand healthier school lunches when our schools don’t have the money, the equipment or the expertise to make that happen.
And because it’s important to prevent obesity early, we’re also working to promote breastfeeding, especially in the black community — (applause) — where 40 percent of our babies never get breast-fed at all, even in the first weeks of life, and we know that babies that are breast-fed are less likely to be obese as children.
So I’m not just here today to talk to you about the problem. I am also here to enlist each and every one of you in our fight to find a solution.
And together, you can do something as simple as hosting a farmers market in your community, or cleaning up a park so that kids have a safe place to play. Or you can do something as involved as working to redesign your entire city or overhaul your school’s lunch program.
And today, I’m proud that the Department of Health and Human Services has announced that they will be investing $31 million in new grants. These grants are called — (applause) — they’re calling these grants Communities Putting Prevention to Work.
And these grants, made possible through the health care reform law, will go to 11 communities and states across the country. They will help support innovative programs designed to fight childhood obesity and make our communities healthier.
This bill has already passed the Senate, and I hope that the House of Representatives will act by the end of this month so we can get this bill signed into law. That’s something we can do.(Applause.)
But in the end, we all know that our childhood obesity crisis will not be solved by a bill in Washington, or even by the best programs in our communities, because, ultimately, the most important decisions about what our kids eat, and how much they exercise, are made at home.
The reality is that we all need to start making some changes to how our families eat. Now, everyone loves a good Sunday dinner. (Laughter.) Me included. (Laughter.) And there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is when we eat Sunday dinner Monday through Saturday. (Laughter.) The problem is when things get out of balance, when portion sizes get out of control, when dessert is practically a food group — (laughter) — or kids are drinking sodas with every meal, or having snacks every couple of hours.
So this doesn’t mean going cold turkey and saying goodbye to the foods we love and that mean so much to our families. Instead, it’s about common sense and moderation. It means thinking hard about the foods we buy and how we prepare them and how much of them we eat.
It means getting our kids screened for obesity and asking our doctors for advice on how to prevent and address the issue.
It means making a conscious decision to incorporate physical activity into our daily lives. That could mean taking longer walks, spending more time as a family in the park. Maybe it’s just turning on the radio and dancing in the middle of the living room until you break a sweat. (Laughter.) Doesn’t have to take that much.
And the beauty of this issue is that this is with our control. We can do this if we all work together. If we continue to work together as we’ve done, then I am confident that together we can give our children the bright future that they deserve.
Thank you all for giving me the time. (Applause.) Thank you all for your prayers, for your hard work, for your intelligence. And I look forward to working with every single one of you in the months and years to come. Thank you all so much. (Applause.)