According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity rates have nearly tripled over the past 30 years and today, nearly one in three children in America is overweight or obese.
The numbers are even higher in African American and Hispanic communities where nearly 40 percent of children are overweight or obese.
In addition to increasing health risks, America's ever-expanding waistline poses a serious threat to economic vitality as well, and the CDC estimates obesity added $147 billion to the nation's health care costs in 2008.
The epidemic of obesity -- particularly in children -- is a key priority for First Lady Michelle Obama, and this week she called on thousands of kids to eat nutritious foods and get plenty of exercise. Laurel Bower Burgmaier explains.
"It's my honor to introduce the First Lady of the United States, a fan of our healthiest state initiative and the driving force behind Let's Move, Michelle Obama."
First Lady Michelle Obama kicked off a national tour in Des Moines this week to celebrate the two year anniversary of Let’s Move.
"This is cool. Hey!"
Let’s Move is a comprehensive initiative, launched by the First Lady in February of 2010. The effort is committed to solving the problem of obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier. The program encourages families across the country to commit to healthier living.
First Lady Michelle Obama: "This is a huge day, a huge day. We are celebrating the 2nd Anniversary of Let's Move. And we could have had this party anywhere. We could have gone anywhere, but there is a reason why we wanted to come to Iowa to be with all of you."
Mrs. Obama chose Iowa as the first stop on her tour because its governor is leading an initiative to make the state the healthiest in the nation by 2016.
Gov. Terry Branstad, R - Iowa: "This healthiest state initiative has inspired Iowans, young and old, to come together and make wellness a priority."
More than 10,000 children grades 6 through 9 joined Mrs. Obama, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad and several celebrities to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of Let’s Move’s.
"From the hit show "The Biggest Loser" please welcome Bob Harper...Nascar racing champion Carl Edwards and Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan...Hi everybody. How are you doing? Good. There's a lot of you here today."
For the past two years, the First Lady has led the charge for a healthier America, partnering with parents, businesses, educators, elected officials, athletes, celebrities, child care providers, and kids themselves to try and improve the health of the nation.
First Lady Michelle Obama: "When it comes to eating right and exercising, it's important for you to know all of you are old enough. You're at an age where you can make good choices for yourselves. You're in a good position to do that now."
According to the First Lady, obesity rates in America’s children have tripled over the last 30 years. The numbers are even higher in African American, Hispanic and Native American communities.
First Lady Michelle Obama: "I mean one thing I know is when I exercise and eat right, I always feel better and I always feel better and I always have more energy. And my husband is the same way too. You've heard of my husband, right? That guy, the President. Well, it's important for you to know that he works out at the gym almost every day before he heads to the Oval Office. But, let's be clear. You do not have to be the President of the United States, you don't have to be an Olympic athlete to make exercise a regular part of your life."
Let’s Move focuses on four main pillars: making healthier choices, getting healthier food in schools, improving access to healthy, affordable food and increasing physical activity.
On several occasions, Mrs. Obama has teamed up with the Department of Agriculture to meet these goals. In January, USDA released new school meal regulations through its National School Lunch and Breakfast program.
Sec. Tom Vilsack, Department of Agriculture: "You need to go back to your schools and you need to encourage your schools to embrace the U.S. Healthier Schools Challenge. Now, what that is when your school gets to be a a Healthier School Challenge school, you essentially embrace nutrition and physical activity every day and your school gets recognized by USDA, my department, and the First Lady's Let's Move initiative and we give a little extra cash bonus to schools. So, I want you to go back and encourage your school to embrace that challenge. It doesn't take much, but you need to lead it."
Two years ago, the First Lady began a national conversation about the health of America’s children. Since then, she says the Let’s Move project has made significant progress.
First Lady Michelle Obama: "You've gotten off to such a great start, but I know we have a lot more work to do if we're going to make Iowa and all our states the healthiest they can be. It's going to take each and every one of us working together to achieve that goal. We're going to need all of you. Again, that's why we wanted you to come. We're going to need all of you to help lead the way. So, my last question is are you ready to do that? Wait, I can't hear you. Are you ready to do that? Well alright then, let's move!"
After leaving the children of Iowa energized with the conviction to be healthier, Mrs. Obama continued her Let’s Move tour to Arkansas, Texas and Florida.
For Market to Market, I’m Laurel Bower Burgmaier.