In 2010, the nation's African-Americans do not have to confront the scourges of Jim Crow laws or slavery, but instead face another threat: obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama told the NAACP annual convention on Monday.
"We are living today in a time where we're decades beyond slavery, we are decades beyond Jim Crow, when one of the greatest risks to our children's future is their own health," Mrs. Obama
"African American children are significantly more likely to be obese than are white children. Nearly half of African American children will develop diabetes at some point in their lives. People, that's half of our children.
"And if we don't do something to reverse this trend right now, our kids won't be in any shape to continue the work begun by the founders of this great organization," she said.
Mrs. Obama's day trip Monday took her from the White House to Kansas City, Mo., to address the nation's oldest civil rights organization at its yearly meeting for the first time and then to Florida's Gulf Coast to see for herself how the BP oil spill was impacting local families and the tourism business.
At a hotel in Panama City Beach in the afternoon, Mrs. Obama said, "It's also important to remember that there are many places along the Gulf Coast, like right here in Panama City Beach, that . . . are still clean, they are safe, and they are open for business.
"That's one of the reasons why I'm here. It's important for the rest of the country to know that these places are just as vibrant and just as beautiful as they've always been. And folks here in Florida and across the Gulf Coast are still depending on visitors and tourist dollars to put food on their tables and to pay their mortgages and to send their kids to college -- because everybody's going to college, right?"
The Obama family will be spending the weekend on the Maine coast, near Acadia National Park. Plans for their summer vacation -- if they take one -- are not yet known. Last year, the family went to Martha's Vineyard.
The Obesity Fight
Her address to the NAACP about obesity, her signature crusade, comes during a week in which the first lady is focusing on health.
She kicks off a revamped website for her "Let's Move!" anti-childhood obesity campaign Tuesday during a live chat at www.aolhealth.com
. A new feature on the www.letsmove.org
website (already posted) is a show titled "Lets Cook!" featuring Sam Kass, the White House chef and food initiative coordinator whose profile is growing as fast as the White House garden he helps to oversee.
But most interesting, potentially, is Mrs. Obama stepping up on Wednesday to help defend one of the Obama White House's major accomplishments: the new health care law President Obama signed earlier this year. Republicans have been attacking the new law and have called for its repeal.
On Wednesday, Mrs. Obama, Jill Biden and Health and Human Service Secretary Kathleen Sebelius will tout the new preventative care provisions that private insurance will cover under the new law, the Affordable Care Act, at George Washington University Hospital.
Heading toward the November midterm elections -- where every prediction points to Democrats loosing seats in Congress and maybe control of the House -- the White House and the Democratic National Committee have been stressing the upfront, immediate benefits of the health bill to voters.
One of the benefits being touted is being able to keep adult dependent children up to the age of 26 on their parents' health insurance plans; other new policies (described at www.HealthCare.gov
) include insurance coverage for those with pre-existing conditions and preventative care (obese individuals have costs about 39 percent above average, according to the White House).
At the NAACP, Mrs. Obama linked the civil rights struggle of earlier eras to the present-day battle for the health of African-American children.
Speaking bluntly and returning to a familiar theme for her, the first lady said kids spend too much time watching TV, playing video games and surfing the Internet instead of playing outside.
"In fact, studies have found that African American children spend an average of nearly six hours a day watching TV -- and that every extra hour of TV they watch is associated with the consumption of an additional 167 calories.
"For many folks, those nutritious family meals are a thing of the past, because a lot of people today are living in communities without a single grocery store, so they have to take two, three buses, a taxi, walk for miles just to buy a head of lettuce for a salad or to get some fresh fruit for their kids.
"Most folks don't grow their own food the way many of our parents and grandparents did. A lot of folks also just don't have the time to cook at home on a regular basis. So instead, they wind up grabbing fast food or something from the corner store or the mini-mart -- places that have few, if any, healthy options.
"And we've seen how kids in our communities regularly stop by these stores on their way to school -- buying themselves sodas and pop and chips for breakfast. And we've seen how they come right back to those same stores after school to buy their afternoon snack of candy and sugary drinks," she said.
While changing entrenched eating habits may be difficult, Mrs. Obama told the group to look at the civil rights movement for inspiration.
"That is exactly what happened here in this city half a century ago. See, because back in 1958, folks right here in Kansas City saw what folks down in Montgomery had achieved with their bus boycott. So they were inspired by all those men and women who walked miles -- walked miles home each day on aching feet because they knew there was a principle at stake. So folks here organized their own boycott of department stores that refused to serve African Americans. Handbills publicizing their meetings stated, and this is a quote: 'They stopped riding in Montgomery, so let's stop buying in Kansas City.' "
And eventually civil rights laws were passed, Mrs. Obama said.
"So we owe it to all those who've come before us to ensure that all those who come after us -- our children and our grandchildren -- that they have the strength and the energy and the enduring good health that they need to continue and complete that journey."
She left the group with her "Let's Move!" ralling cry:
"So I'm asking you, NAACP, will you move with me? Let's move! I'm going to need you, NAACP. This is not an endeavor that I can do by myself. We cannot change the health of our community alone."
Said Mrs. Obama: "I'm going to need each and every single one of you to work together for this campaign for our children's future. If we do this together, we can change the way our children think about their health forever.''