Flanked by a dozen municipal leaders, including Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Newark, NJ, Mayor Cory Booker, First Lady Michelle Obama spoke to a crowd at the Lenfest PAL Center in the Hunting Park section of Philadelphia.
Obama was there to tout her “Let’s Move!” childhood exercise initiative, which is dedicated to “solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation."
Obama said resolving the national childhood obesity problem means chiseling away at it locally with local strategies.
"There is no one-size-fits-all policy or program that can solve this problem, and Washington certainly does not have all the answers on this issue," she said.
"Many of the best, most innovative, most effective solutions start in our city halls, [and] in our town and county councils.”
The First Lady said health care issues related to childhood obesity costs the national economy tens of millions of dollars.
“When kids aren’t healthy, they miss more days of school, which means higher absenteeism as parents have to stay home and care for their kids,” Obama said. “All of that doesn’t just affect the businesses in your community today, it also affects whether new businesses will come and set up shop in the years ahead.”
Following the remarks, Obama and Nutter cut the ribbon on a playground created by KaBOOM, a national, nonprofit playground company.
(Neighborhood kids then forgot about the First Lady and started to play.)
Local residents agree that childhood obesity is a problem in their area.
Nina Bullard sat on her father’s porch, watching people line up to gain entrance to the Lenfest Center to see the First Lady.
“I just found out this morning that at the First Lady is coming,” Bullard said. "Nothing like this ever happens on this street, and now the First Lady is in the neighborhood? Come on!”
Bullard said the childhood obesity rate in the neighborhood is high, and that the Center has helped curb it.
“The children really need that here,” Bullard said. “It really helps keep them in better shape and it keeps them out of trouble; keeps them off the streets."
John Kinney was relaxing with some neighbors at his Pike Street home, watching the news vans, police and Secret Service setting up.
Kinney said he’s proud of his neighborhood and the steps it’s taking to help the children become more fit, but that such an initiative is long overdue there.
“I support what the First Lady is doing with childhood obesity, and it’s needed, but [the initiative is] years too late,” Kinney said.
“Just like the Lenfest Center. I think it’s a beautiful thing, but it came years too late. We needed something for the kids years ago, but at least they have something now. And they’re even building new baseball fields in [nearby] Hunting Park.”
According to Let's Move!, nearly one in three American children is obese, and nearly 40 percent of children in Hispanic and black communities are obese.
Lenfest PAL tennis instructor Mark Zayas, who's been with the center for the past couple of years, said more kids should take advantage of facilities like the Lenfest Center.
“The obesity rate is bigger than it should be,” Zayas said. “If kids have the opportunity to come to a place like this, why wouldn’t they? Especially in the summer time."
Let's Move! reports that American children are obese because they are less active and spend more than seven hours per day using “entertainment media.” The website also blames cutbacks in gym classes and after-school programs and increasing portion sizes.