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Michelle Obama: Parents Crucial in Battle Against Childhood Obesity


"Slowly but surely, we're beginning to turn the tide on childhood obesity in America," First Lady Michelle Obama said today in the closing keynote address of the Building a Healthier Future Summit.

"Together, we are inspiring leaders from every sector to take ownership of this issue."

The three-day event, put on by the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), focused on ways to address the ongoing challenge of youth obesity in the United States.

The first lady offered up a host of her own ideas during the closing keynote, many of which revolved around parents.

"When it comes to the health of our kids, no one has a greater impact than each of us do as parents," Mrs. Obama said. "We know that families play a uniquely important role" in terms of combating childhood obesity.

"Kids aren't the ones going to the supermarket or waking up early and making breakfast, at least not in my house," she continued. "And they certainly don't sign themselves up for ballet or basketball clinics at the Y. That's our job. More than anything else, we as parents define what our kids eat and how active they are every single day."

The first lady urged parents to be firm in terms of physical activity and healthy eating with their children, saying, "We'd never dream of letting kids skip going to the doctor or learning math just because they don't like it."

Healthy eating might be a hard sell to children, but it's not an entirely lost cause. She referenced a study in which putting an Elmo stamp on a stalk of broccoli made children significantly more likely to select it instead of a chocolate bar when presented with a choice between the two.

And children aren't the only ones who have to change the way they eat, Mrs. Obama said. Parents have to "change our own habits and behaviors as well."

"We as parents are our children's first and best role models, and this is particularly true when it comes to their health," she continued. "We can't lie around on the couch eating French fries and candy bars and expect our kids to eat carrots and run around the block."

Of course, parents aren't the only ones responsible for keeping children healthy and physically fit. Mrs. Obama recently launched a nationwide campaign to get K-12 students active for at least an hour a day in 50,000 schools within the next five years.

"Everyone has to make supporting healthy families their top priority going forward," the first lady said.

New PHA Partners

Before Mrs. Obama took the stage, attendees at Friday's summit were greeted by a host of speakers, including Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker and New York Giants quarterback and two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning.

Booker delivered an inspired speech about how there's "nothing we can't do as a people when we come together."

"We are going to manifest the will to turn this around," the mayor said. "This is the story of America. It's how we've dealt with the most complicated problems, the biggest challenges, the greatest mountains, we've done it by pulling together. Not worried about right or left, not worried by this or that, but by unified purpose."

Manning, on the other hand, spoke more generally about the benefits of physical fitness for children, saying that it's been a "lifestyle" for him. (As a professional athlete, well... yeah.)

Manning spoke at the summit as a representative of the Reebok Foundation's BOKS before-school physical activity program, which announced a $30 million contribution over the next three years to physical-activity opportunities. Manning said seeing children participate in such a program was "just as rewarding as winning a Super Bowl."

At the beginning of the day's events, the Mushroom Council also announced a $6 million commitment over the next three years to "replace meat with mushrooms" in school lunches. Effectively, the organization works to improve the quality of school lunches by mixing mushrooms and meat together in dishes.

Both BOKS and the Mushroom Council were announced as official partners of PHA at the event, moving up from the "sponsor" level.

During Booker's time on stage, he was also tasked with declaring the End Childhood Obesity Innovation Challenge winner, an ongoing PHA competition designed to find childhood-obesity prevention-related ideas from the general public. Dennis Ai ended up taking home the grand prize with his JiveHealth video game, designed to teach children healthy eating habits.

For his idea, Ai will receive $10,000, 45 hours of guidance from a panel of advisers, and the chance to pitch his idea to the deputy managing editor of Fortune magazine for an article.

Photo: First lady Michelle Obama speaks at the Partnership for a Healthier America's Building a Healthier Future Summit on childhood obesity on Friday. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

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