First Lady Launches Healthy Schools Initiative

First Lady Michelle Obama recently campaigned in South Florida for her “Let’s Move!” healthy kids program, and unveiled a widespread expansion of after-school exercise and snack programs.

“That’s not just good for kids. It’s also good for parents. They’ll know all their hard work isn’t being undermined every time [their kids] head off to school,” Obama told a small crowd at the Gladeview park’s recreation center.

Most recently, the administration announced the elimination of sugary, fatty foods in vending machines and lunch line a la carte items starting in July. The proposed advertising ban, which is backed by the beverage industry, is an extension of the health food push.

In her Miami stop, the First Lady celebrated what she said are the successes of her program, which has been adopted in every Miami-Dade public school. When the First Lady began her campaign, she aimed to reduce childhood obesity rates that had tripled during the past 30 years to the point that one in three children and adolescents was overweight or obese.

Recently, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study showing the prevalence of obesity among U.S. children fell to 8.1 percent from 14 percent a decade ago.

“That’s the lowest rate we’ve seen in a very long time, so we’re beginning to make some real progress,” said Obama. “And none of this happened by accident.”

Under the advertising proposals she announced Tuesday in Washington alongside Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the promotion of sugary drinks and junk foods would be phased out around campuses during the day. Gym score boards, cups, food menus and vending machines on school grounds, for instance, could no longer bear the images of M&Ms or colas. A Dasani water bottle or Diet Pepsi, however, would still be acceptable.

“You’re not going to find a vending machine that has a big soda advertised on the side of it,” she said.

Together, the Miami Dade and Broward County districts serve a combined 364,000 students whose household income is low enough to qualify for subsidized meals. Both serve snacks and “supper” after school and offer a universal free breakfast program. Broward County alone spends $84 million on lunch and breakfast. Under the proposal, all students at qualifying schools would get free lunches.

Robert Runcie said expanded free meals would be a great service — though he noted that kids aren’t always gung-ho about the healthier menu.

“There are students who come to school, with the only meal that they can count on is what they receive from school,” Runcie said.

The two organizations said they are teaming up to expand healthy snacks and half-hour exercise programs in 5,400 after-school venues around the country, though they could not say which locations in South Florida would be included.

“We have revamped our school meal program so soon millions more kids will be starting their day with a healthy meal,” Obama said, following an introduction from comedian and faux parks employee Amy Poehler. “Then they’ll get a meal at lunch with more fruits vegetables and grains. Then they’ll be getting active through the school days. Then, when school is out, they’ll head to an after-school program like this one and get more nutritious food and have more opportunities for moving.”

For more on this initiative, click here.