In Phila., Michelle Obama announces obesity push

Michelle Obama, Mayor Nutter , and children at the Lenfest Police Athletic Club in North Philadelphia cut the ribbon for a prototype playground. RON TARVER / Staff Photographer
Michelle Obama, Mayor Nutter , and children at the Lenfest Police Athletic Club in North Philadelphia cut the ribbon for a prototype playground. RON TARVER / Staff Photographer
Posted: July 20, 2012

How to end the obesity epidemic?

One city at a time.

That's the approach Michelle Obama took Wednesday as she appeared with 11 mayors in a North Philadelphia gymnasium to discuss the latest iteration of her two-year-old Let's Move! campaign to reverse the nation's obesity epidemic.

The attack on childhood obesity needs to start at the local level, she said, with mayors and other city officials taking the helm.

"There's no one-size-fits-all solution to the problem," she told an enthusiastic crowd in the gym of the Lenfest Police Athletic Club at 3890 N. 10th St. Mayors "see people's struggles up close."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awarded just under $1 million to the National League of Cities to lead the effort as part of the Let's Move! Cities, Towns, and Counties component of the larger initiative.

The grant has gone toward creating a website, launched Wednesday - www.healthycommunitieshealthyfuture.org - where city officials can sign up and commit to achieving goals to improve the health of children in their communities.

The effort includes educating young residents about healthy practices, promoting healthier food in schools and stores, and increasing kids' physical activity.

In her speech, Obama also cited the example of Mason Carter Harvey, 12, of Oklahoma City, who lost 85 pounds by cutting down on junk food and doing more exercise. Now, through his website - http://www.strivefor85.com/ - he helps other kids conquer obesity.

Tracy Wiedt, who manages the cities and towns part of Let's Move!, said 92 local elected officials - each representing a different city or county - have already signed up, including ones from Los Angeles and Chicago. Through the website, city officials can access educational resources and "webinars" and arrange visits by experts to assist the community.

Wiedt also said the program would collect survey data from each city, to give personalized feedback as well as to gather statistics to measure progress. However, she said, there will be no "regranting" for the cities to start new programs; the funding will go only toward educational materials and support.

Yael Lehmann, executive director of the Food Trust in Philadelphia, attended the announcement and thought it was "a neat idea." "What's happening on the local level is critical," she said.

The campaign is "a good start," added Kelly D. Brownell, director of Yale University's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. But more needs to be done to reach Obama's goal of ending obesity within one generation, Brownell said.

"I think the government needs to get more aggressive than it is now in terms of establishing policies," Brownell said. "Taxing soda would be one example of [more aggressive policies], or getting rid of junk food in schools. Restricting the marketing of unhealthy foods to children is another."

Gary Foster, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University, believes the initiative is "not a game changer" but nevertheless "can point people in the right direction."

Among those who spoke was Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who has already mounted a citywide effort called "This City is Going on a Diet."

Five years ago, "the city was in denial," Cornett said. He put the entire city on a diet, resulting in 47,000 residents' reaching their goal of losing a million pounds.

"We can no longer build a city around cars; we have to build it around people," Cornett said to rousing applause.


Contact Meeri Kim at 215-854-5309 or mkim@phillynews.com.

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