The First Lady Unveils Childhood Obesity Task Force Action Plan
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The First Lady Unveils Childhood Obesity Task Force Action Plan

March 9, 2020

Melody Barnes:
Well, good morning everyone. It is a pleasure to
have you here with us. Before I begin, I want to
introduce the wonderful people on the stage with me. Obviously, she needs no
introduction, the First Lady, Michelle Obama. (applause) And then, standing to her right, the Secretary of Health and Human Services,
Kathleen Sebelius. We also have from — the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, Jon Leibowitz. The Director of the Office of
Health Reform from the White House, Nancy-Ann DeParle. And then to my left, we have
the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. The Secretary of Housing
and Urban Development, Shaun Donovan. And the Assistant Secretary
from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan. So I’m really pleased to have
them here with us today. 90 days ago, as
many of you know, the President gave us a charge. He first formed the first ever
task force on childhood obesity and he asked us to all work
together to ensure that we could reduce the levels of childhood
obesity and reduce it significantly
within a generation. But in doing that, he also told
us two things that were critical to our work. First of all, he told us that
the federal government can’t do this alone — that we had to work together with the private sector, with the philanthropic
sector, with parents, with community advocates, with
absolutely everyone who has a stake in ensuring that children
are leading healthy and balanced lives. So we set out to work
together with them. The next thing he told us is that we also had to work to ensure that we were bringing
together people in the public. And that we’re working together
with the public to ensure that we know what they think. And we did that. And we were just bowled over by
the response that we received. Over two hundred and —
two hundred — I’m sorry. Over 2,500 responses from
doctors and nurses, parents, community advocates and others,
telling us and giving us and sharing with us their
recommendations and their best thoughts on this issue. So we believe, that with
those two things combined, that we have produced a
really informed report. And we’re very,
very proud today, and I want to share it with you. That we are rolling
out this report, responding to the
President’s charge. In this report, we have what
we believe is a roadmap; an action enforcing a
set of recommendations. Over 70 recommendations that
will help us move from today, forward, to ensure
that we can; in fact, reduce the levels of childhood
obesity in a generation. What we know we have to do and
what we believe we can do is to move from the levels
where we are today; about 20% of our young people
who are obese down to about 5% of our people — young people, who are obese by the year 2030. So in the next 20 years, we’re
going to be working together with the private sector, with
state and local governments, and with others, based
on these recommendations, to try and achieve that goal. And we do believe that
that goal is achievable. To do that, we’re going to be
working in five different areas. First of all, making sure that
children get a healthy start to their lives. That means that we have
recommendations on prenatal care for future mothers and
their — their children. We also are including breast
feeding opportunities for young mothers and their infants. We are talking about limits on screen time so children are able to live a more healthy and active life and making sure that children who are in our childcare facilities are also getting ample physical activity. Second, we want to empower
parents and caregivers. We, as I said, believe that this
isn’t something that the federal government can do alone. We aren’t moving
into people’s homes. What we’re doing is, we’re
sharing information with parents and caregivers so that they
have actionable messages; clear messages about what
they should be doing, what will be helpful for them to
make sure that their children, the children under their care, are leading healthier lives so that we are moving
closer to our goal. Those things include reduce
marketing of unhealthy products to children, and also improved
healthcare services — including BMI
measurement for children. Third, we’re providing
and suggesting and making recommendations around providing
healthy foods in schools through investments in federally supported school lunches and breakfasts, upgrading the
other kinds of foods that are available at our schools,
the a la carte foods that are available at our schools,
and also improving nutrition education. Fourth, improving access to
healthy, affordable food, by eliminating food deserts. And we’ve heard the First Lady
and those who are sharing the stage with me today, talk very,
very passionately about this issue. We’ve gone around the country
and looked at the good work that’s happening in communities in the country, bo — in communities,
both urban and rural, where this problem exists, and making recommendations so that we can address it. Also, lowering the relative
prices so that we can make sure that healthier foods are getting into our communities and to our children. And finally, making sure that
children are leading physically active lives. That includes everything
from recess at school, to making sure that children are
able to access physical activity in the built environment. That they’re able
to bike to school, that they’re able
to walk to school. And that they are
able to do so safely. So those are the kind of
recommendations that are embedded in this report. We are very, very proud
of it and at this moment, I’m also proud to introduce to
you the person who has been working on this issue from day
one and has given so much in terms of her savvy and in terms
of her knowledge to this issue. The First Lady of the United
States, Michelle Obama. (applause) The First Lady:
Thank you. (applause) Thanks, everyone,
and thanks, Melody, for that kind introduction,
that wonderful summary. I want to thank Melody in
particular for her work with this administration, especially
her leadership on this Task Force. As I said when we announced
the Task Force effort, this is going to have to be an
administration-wide effort. And I am proud of the way that
so many people from so many different areas of the federal
government have come together and embraced this challenge,
stepped up with a level of commitment and passion that’s
really made a difference. If we — just take a step back for a moment and think about just how much this group has been able to accomplish in such a short period of time. In just a few months, the folks
behind me have worked together to put forward a comprehensive
plan that draws on everything that we’ve done up to this point
and shows us that clear way forward. That cooperation, enthusiasm and
initiative is really what has made this entire
effort so successful. And again, that’s why
we’re here today — to talk about the action plan
that they’ve put together to help reverse the epidemic
of childhood obesity in this country. We all know that it’s possible. We know we have the tools, we
know we have the resources to make this happen. And now, thanks to the
work of the Task Force, we have a road map for
implementing our plan across our government and
across the country. I have talked about
the statistics. We have all heard about them. But they always bear repeating. How nearly one in three children
in this country are overweight and obese. How one in three kids will
suffer from diabetes at some point in their
lifetime as a result. And how we’re spending $150
billion a year to treat obesity-related conditions
like heart disease and cancer. That is why, three months ago,
we started “Let’s Move” and we set a very ambitious goal — and that is to end the epidemic of childhood obesity in a generation, so that children born today grow up
at a healthy weight. And since we’ve made
that announcement, we’ve already begun the work. It’s revolved around
four main pillars. We’ve been working to give
parents the information that they need to make healthy
decisions for their families. We’ve been working to make
our schools healthier. We’ve been working to increase
the amount of physical activity that our kids are getting, not
just during the day at school but also at home. And we’re working to eliminate
“food deserts” so that folks have easy and affordable access
to the foods they need right in their own neighborhoods. But all that we’ve done over the
past few months has really just been the beginning. We also want to make sure we’re
using every resource that we have — not just in our
federal government — but throughout the public
and private sector, as well. We are calling upon
mayors and governors; and parents and educators;
business owners and health care providers — anyone who has a stake in giving our children the healthy, happy future that
we all know they deserve. And as I’ve said before, we
don’t need new discoveries or new inventions to
reverse this trend. Again, we have the tools at
our disposal to reverse it. All we need is the motivation,
the opportunity and the willpower to do what
needs to be done. That’s why, shortly after
we started “Let’s Move,” we asked the Task Force to collect ideas and to put together a road map for what
we need to do moving forward. But we’ve also known,
as Melody pointed out, from the very beginning that the
solution to this epidemic isn’t going to come from
just Washington alone. Not a single expert that we’ve
consulted has said that having the federal government tell
people what to do is the way to solve this. That’s why the Task Force
has done such a great job in reaching out to people all
across the country for their ideas, as Melody
has pointed out, and we’ve got terrific responses
and input which has really helped to shape this report. Today, the Task Force has
submitted their report outlining important steps that federal
agencies and their partners — including businesses and
the private sector — will take in the months and
years ahead to help keep our children healthy. For the first time —
this is the key — we’re setting really clear goals
and benchmarks and measurable outcomes that will help tackle
this challenge one step, one family and one
child at a time. The effort starts with using the
resources across the federal government in the most
effective ways possible — not just talking about
making a difference, but actually doing it. And that’s why I am so proud
of the folks behind me because they’ve really taken the
lead and stepped up in their agencies. At the Department
of Agriculture, Secretary Vilsack — who couldn’t be here today, but Kathleen is — is leading the way to first reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, to get healthier foods in our schools, and to make sure that everyone
in this country has access to healthy, affordable foods
in their neighborhoods. At the Department of
Health and Human Services, Secretary Sebelius is working
to provide mothers with better prenatal care, and to give
parents and caregivers the information they need to make
healthy decisions for their families. At the Department of Education,
Secretary Duncan is working to expand opportunities for
physical activity in schools, and helping our children learn
how to make healthy choices for themselves. And at the White House,
Nancy-Ann DeParle worked with Secretary Sebelius and so many
others to help pass health reform, the bill that is
a groundbreaking piece of legislation that includes really
important provisions like requiring chain restaurants to
post the calories in their food, and businesses to provide
opportunities for working mothers to continue
to breastfeed. This report also contains these
steps, but many others — more than 70, as
Melody pointed out — including measurable benchmarks
for tracking the progress. So if we do our jobs, and if
we meet the goals we’ve set, we will reverse a 30-year
trend and solve the problem of childhood obesity in America. In order to make our kids
maintain a healthy weight from the very beginning, we’re going
to increase prenatal counseling, help pregnant mothers
maintain a healthy weight. We’re also setting a goal to
increase breastfeeding rates to help children get a
healthy start on life. To encourage children
to eat healthier, we’re setting a goal to increase
the amount of fruits that children consume to 75% of the
recommended level by 2015. We want to increase that again
to 85% by the year 2020, and then by the year 2030
we hope to be at 100%. We’re using a similar scale
to increase the percentage of vegetables that our
kids are eating as well. We’re also working to decrease
the amount of added sugar that our kids consume from a
whole range of products. And to make sure that parents
and kids are getting the right information that they need
to make healthy decisions, we’re setting a goal that all
primary care physicians should be assessing BMI at all
well-child and adolescent visits by the year 2012. And we’re also working to
increase the portion of healthy food and beverages that are
advertised and targeted to our children so that within three
years the majority of food and beverage ads aimed at kids
will promote healthy choices. We’re also setting benchmarks
for our schools as well. We’ll be working, as I’ve said
many times over the months, to double the number of schools
that meet the HealthierUS School Challenge by the year 2011, and
we want to add another thousand schools each year for
the following two years. We’re also aiming to add an
additional 2 million children to the National School
Lunch Program by 2015. And to help our
kids stay active, we’re going to increase the
number of high school students who participate in daily P.E. classes by 50% by the year 2030. And we’ll aim to increase the
percentage of elementary schools that offer recess to
95% by the year 2015. Both these steps are aimed at
boosting the number of kids of all ages who meet current
physical activity guidelines. To make it easier for parents to
put healthy food on the table, we’re going to keep track of the
low-income areas where residents live more than a mile from a
supermarket or large grocery store, and for rural areas we’re
tracking those that are more than 10 miles away. And we’ll set a goal of
eliminating all those “food deserts” within seven years. And to make it easier for
kids to walk to school, we’re aiming to increase the
percentage of school-age children who take safe walking
and biking trips to school by 50% in the next five years. In the end, that’s why this
report, and this Task Force, are so important. We all know the dangers
of childhood obesity, and the toll that it takes on
our children, our families, and our country. We know the steps that we need
to take to reverse the trend. Through “Let’s Move,” we’ve
already started making some progress. We’ve gotten wonderful support
from all sectors of our country. And now, with this report, we
have a very solid road map that we need to make
these goals real, to solve this problem
within a generation. Now we just need to follow
through with the plan. We just need everyone
to do their part — and it’s going to take everyone. No one gets off the
hook on this one — from governments to schools,
corporations to nonprofits, all the way down to families
sitting around their dinner table. And the one thing that I can
promise is that as First Lady I’m going to continue to do
everything that I can to focus my energy to keep this issue at
the forefront of the discussion in this society so that we
ensure that our children can have the healthy lives and
the bright futures that they deserve. So I am grateful
to everyone here — not just members on stage, but
people in the media who have really done an outstanding job
to continue to keep this issue at the forefront. We’re going to keep needing
to have this conversation. Our work has just begun. This road map is
just the beginning. But we’re going to continue to
need your help in monitoring, tracking, having the important
discussions that we need to inform families about
what’s going on, how to make the
changes that they need. It’s not going to be easy, but
we’ll do our part to stick with families and communities
and reach our goals. So I want to thank you all for
the support you’ve lended this effort. I’m very proud of
our federal agencies, all our secretaries
and our agency heads. Every single one of them
has shown a passion. They’ve seen around the country
that we’re poised to make a difference in this country,
that people are ready for this change. So with that, I’ll again thank
Melody for her work in leading this very efficient
and effective effort, and then we’ll open it up. These secretaries
will answer questions. I will leave — (laughter) — but they’re very
competent to get that done. So thank you, all. Thank you, guys. Thank you. (applause) (applause) Melody Barnes:
Well, we would like to open this up and take your questions and we — let us know that you want them directed to any particular person. Great. We’ve got a lot of hands. Why don’t we start here? If you could give us your
name and organization, that would be terrific. Toby Zakaria:
Toby Zakaria, with Reuters. This mention in — the recommendations about a higher tax on sugary drinks, I wanted to get more information on that and how you would propose to implement such a thing and whether you think you could actually get something like that through Congress. Melody Barnes:
Sure. I don’t know if there’s someone — I’m happy to answer it — go ahead. Secretary Sebelius:
I think the reference to the tax is a reference to what is going on in some states and
localities around the country. There is no proposal for a
federal tax on sugar but it is a strategy that is in place in
some communities and that others are taking a strong look at
because it does correlate to a lower use. So I think the reference is more
that this is one of the efforts underway right now
in communities. And it may be a strategy that
others want to deploy but there is no recommendation
for a federal tax. Melody Barnes:
Next question. Here. Jerry Hagstrom:
Yes. I’d like to direct this question to deputy — excuse me. Jerry Hagstrom, from National
Journals Congress Daily. I’d like to address this
question to Deputy Secretary Merrigan. I noticed that one of the
recommendations are — actually, the actions that you
have planned is to update the dietary guidelines
and the food pyramid. And the question I have is
whether that is on a speeded up schedule, compared with
the way that they are — I think they are normally
done every few years. I’m just wondering, how
soon you’ll be doing that? Deputy Secretary Merrigan:
The — thanks, Jerry,
for that question. The process has been underway
now for nearly a year. We have a committee of experts
working on that and we are very close to a first release for
people to get into the weeds and figure out how
they feel about it. So it’s been
ongoing for a while. It’s married up to
the larger effort. Melody Barnes:
Great. Next question. Yes, here. Speaker:
Hi. I’m Judy (inaudible) from the (inaudible) and I’d like to know about the school lunch program. With the a la — particularly the a la carte items served in school. Will there be any outright
ban on some of the more nutritionally
questionable food served? How deep will the regulation go? Melody Barnes:
Okay. Secretary Duncan:
We will be working with Secretary Vilsack — to think that thing through but
what he’s pushing so hard on is to make sure that the
food we are serving, the breakfasts’ and
lunches are healthier. Making sure what is in
vending machines is healthy. And making sure that we’re
helping to instill in students at an early age an
understanding of these issues. And so, he’s not here, obviously
today to talk through the details of it, but he’s trying
to take the country, I think, in an extraordinarily
important direction. And he’s looking for increased funding for the Child Nutrition Act, but to put that money
not into the status quo, but into much more
nutritious meals. To put better stuff into
vending machines as well. And he’s being just a phenomenal
partner in this effort. Melody Barnes:
And one thing I would
also add to that — oh, Kathleen, do you want to go? Please. Deputy Secretary Merrigan:
I’ll just add to that. We are looking at the
quality of school meals, but we are also looking at a
population in this country where nearly 18% of children
are food insecure. And so, one of the pillars of “Let’s Move” in this report you’ll read is
about food access. And food access is
about food deserts, but it’s about
hunger and obesity. Same root cause; lack of
access of good healthy food. And we know that we have 32
million children now that are in the school lunch program, but
we only have 11 million in the school breakfast program. And worse of all, we have about
2.4 million in our summer feeding programs. So we also have access issues
about getting children access to meals. In some cases we
know that children — really their only sustenance,
their real sustenance during the day, is coming from these
national school lunch program and breakfast. And we need to do better. So that’s also part of the
priority of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization that we’re
all engaged in this year. Quality and, as well, reach. Melody Barnes:
I also think this is an excellent example of the kind of partnership we
were talking about. This is an area where not
only do we agree across the administration but the food and
beverage industry is also in agreement with us
that a la carte foods, as well as the lunches and breakfasts that we’ve been talking about meet certain
nutritional standards. So that’s an example of
the kind of collaboration. Lynn Sweet:
(inaudible) Melody Barnes:
Yes. Sure. Lynn Sweet:
I am Lynn Sweet — Melody Barnes:
Why don’t we wait
for the microphone? Lynn Sweet:
I am Lynn Sweet, from
the Chicago Sun Times and Politics Daily. One of the proposals has to do
with having insurance policies, so I’m looking, I guess at Nancy
DeParle and Secretary Sebelius, cover childhood
obesity programs. Is that something that
is not common now? And why make a distinction
between adult obesity and insurance coverage,
and childhood obesity? Nancy-Ann DeParle:
Well, I believe what the report is talking about is covering, among other things, prevention
and making sure that children get wellness visits
and get the, you know, the care that they need. And we do know that that will
help families to lower their costs and lower
insurance premiums. So I think that’s the reason
why it’s focused on that. Lynn Sweet:
But would that include,
let’s say, surgery? Would that include whatever
across the board recommendation there might be? Nancy-Ann DeParle:
I don’t think we’ve
gotten to that point yet. Lynn Sweet:
But why make a distinction in wellness between adult obesity and childhood obesity,
because I believe you did — you’re not — adult — Nancy-Ann DeParle:
Well, no. Prevention will be covered
for adults, as well. Secretary Sebelius:
And, Lynn, I think some of the issues about what specifically are going to be covered in
prevention packages have not yet been determined, but I think
there is no question that a lot of people believe that if you
intervene at a much earlier stage, the likelihood that you
can change a child’s patterns and not end up with the kind of
adult pattern where two out of three adults, right now, are
overweight or obese is also a strategy worth having. But prevention efforts are going
to be available across the board and certainly aimed at
obesity across the board. This report is focused
on childhood obesity. Mary Burroughs:
I’m Mary Burroughs. I’m sorry. I’m Mary Burroughs from Rodale. Thank you. (laughter) Mary Burroughs:
This is for the Chairman of
the Federal Trade Commission. Over and over again, Federal
Trade Commission has had opportunities to reduce,
somehow or another, the amount of advertising
children on television and every time you’ve tried,
you’ve flunked. What’s going to make
it different now? Chairman Leibowitz:
Well, I think we’ve been working on this — well, you’re right. I mean, if you go back
to the 1970s and — late 1970s and early 1980s,
there was an effort to sort of regulate food marketing to kids. I think one thing that makes a
difference now is, first of all, this is a really
multifaceted approach. You know, involving a lot
of different agencies, a lot of different things that
will help reduce obesity, particularly childhood obesity. For our agency, I think we are
working fairly cooperatively with the food marketing
companies and that’s a good thing. As you may know, in 2005 we
subpoenaed 44 major food marketing companies;
fast food companies. And we asked them to make
commitments to market only healthier foods to kids. And although they haven’t done
quite as much as we might like, or as fast as we would like,
we did get some commendable progress. Now we’re going back into the
field and we’re going to see — you know we’re going to go back
and send subpoenas back to all of these companies, which we
can do to look at an industry. And we’ll find out whether they
are honoring their commitments and whether we can
make them do more. Speaker:
I’m sorry, but we already know that they are not honoring their commitments enough to
have made any difference. Chairman Leibowitz:
I don’t want to — I
don’t want to prejudge, but, you know, we have
seen — to some extent — marketing of healthier
foods to kids. But I agree with you —
more needs to be done. But I also think that a
regulatory approach is certainly not where we want to start. Speaker:
Why? Speaker:
I mean, there won’t be any
teeth in it if there is no regulatory approach. Chairman Leibowitz:
Well — do you want
me to come back? Well, I think you try to start by pushing self-regulation; by using your bully pulpit — which the First Lady is doing and we’re trying to do
in our own small way — and by commending the companies that are really stepping up to the plate and, you know, sometimes shaming companies that aren’t doing enough. But, you know, we’re in danger of becoming a nation — as we all know — a nation
of corpulent Americans; nobody wants to see that. And we’re going to work
really, really hard. I think regulation is the
last thing you want to do. And there are also important First Amendment concerns — if we try to regulate what
foods could be marketed, I think that would be — that would be a matter that would be in litigation for
quite some time. We don’t have the authority
to do that, by the way, because Congress, in the 1970s,
as a result of the efforts then, took away our authority to
engage in food marketing regulations, so, certain types
of food marketing regulations. So, we’re going to
keep on working on it, and we like this approach
that’s sort of collective and multifaceted. Melody Barnes:
Thanks, Jon. Speaker:
Are there no federal — Melody Barnes:
I’m sorry? Speaker:
— legislation to come out
of this task force, I mean, to implement any of this? Melody Barnes:
Well, no. I mean, I think, first of all,
the First Lady referenced the Child Nutrition Reauthorization
bill that Congress has already started to move on. We’ve seen Chairman Lincoln take
really wonderful steps to that end. It was something that was
included in our budget that the President sent up this year. We continue to work with the
Chairwoman and other members of Congress to increase the amount
of funding to support that program. We also have the Healthy Food
Financing Initiative that was in our budget that we
want to move forward. So, again, this is their array
of different recommendations and proposals that are included
in the report, again, including what we can
do at the federal level, but also what state and
local governments can do, what the private sector can do. In some cases, we’re
encouraging, you know, one sector to act. In some cases, it will
require all sectors to act. But there — it
includes legislation. It includes recommendations
for what should happen in the private sector. Going forward, the First Lady
and the task force will take the lead on efforts with regard
to the private sector. We, obviously, will be moving
forward on the things that will be done on the federal level and
working with state and local governments, as well. Yes? Peter Maer:
I have a couple questions, school-related questions, for Secretary Duncan, please. Melody Barnes:
Okay. And if you could give us your
name and organization, please. Peter Maer:
Sure. Peter Maer with CBS News. Secretary Duncan, this
recommendation to increase the walking and safe walking
distance to schools by 50% that Mrs. Obama mentioned, how do you
think you can do that with local school systems having their
own mandates, and so forth? Do you envision decreasing, say,
school bus service to kids that live a certain distance
close to schools? Secretary Duncan:
Obviously, those
are local decisions. Those aren’t decisions —
we don’t make school bussing decisions here in Washington, but I think it’s really shining a spotlight on how
beneficial this is. It’s really helping
districts do the right thing. So it’s not a federal mandate. It’s not getting into
transportation routes. But it’s really encouraging
people to do this. And we have resources. And we have $410 million we want
to invest in a program called “Safe and Healthy Students”
and thinking about, you know, what we’re doing before
school, to and from school, during school, recess, lunch. We want to put our money
where our mouth is. And I’m just convinced, and
the First Lady (inaudible), children aren’t going to be at
their best academically if they are not healthy. And so this is really a way to
make sure students have the maximum chance of fulfilling
their academic potential. Peter Maer:
And as we approach the — what
in many areas is the end of the school year, the question for
you or anyone else up there, to what extent are you concerned
that the effort to have good nutrition for so many kids who
can only rely on school lunches and school breakfasts for their
daily nutrition is going to just collapse every
year at this time? Secretary Duncan:
That’s a real concern, and
we can talk it through, but I think the summer feeding
program is a big, big deal, and maybe going to walk through
what the plans are for the summer. But, yeah, that’s something I
worry about a lot of students, whether it’s, you know, over
the summer or even over the weekends, who are really
struggling to get food and quality food at home. That’s a big challenge. You want to walk through
the summer feeding program? Deputy Secretary Marrigan:
Well, nothing to
walk through exactly. I mean, again, it’s
2.4 million children. If you assume that at least the
11 million children that now participate in school breakfast
programs are of an income level that they really
need that assistance, and we know we have 2.4 million
children getting the summer feeding programs, that’s
a significant gap. We also know that only 88,000
of the 100,000 schools that have a school lunch program in place offer the breakfast program. So 11 million is probably
not the whole of it, and so we do have
a significant gap. And, again, this is a very
important issue that we’re discussing in the context of the
Child Nutrition Reauthorization legislation effort. And to underscore
what Melody said, the President’s FY-11 budget
proposal that went up to Capitol Hill put forth a billion dollars
a year to support the Child Nutrition Reauthorization. That’s what we feel we need. Congress is struggling
to find those dollars, but I think we all agree it’s
an extremely important effort, and we’re hoping that we can go
beyond what the Senate bill has done. It’s a great start. It’s a $4.5 billion effort, but
we believe we need a $10 billion bill. Secretary Donovan:
You asked a little bit about kids walking to school. Obviously, the schools
are a piece of it, but the surrounding
neighborhoods, if they are not designed
in a way that allows for — many communities
without even sidewalks, much less bike paths or other
ways for kids to get to school. So there’s a range of ways in
the recommendations that HUD, also working with the
Department of Transportation, and the Department of Justice
will be working to ensure that we have opportunities for
kids to walk to school, whether that’s when we’re
redeveloping a community through, say, a HOPE VI, a
public housing community, making sure that we have
sidewalks that are incorporated. Often, if you look
at the current — the older designs
of public housing, you don’t have what we
call eyes on the street. And so we’ve incorporated front
porches and a range of features to those developments that make them safer and coordinated with local police departments to ensure that there are pathways to school that are there. Then more broadly, whether it’s
for the transportation funding, our community development block
grant funding, or other sources, we’ve developed a set of
livability principles. We’ve funded $100 million in
regional planning grants in our last budget that are helping
communities develop standards, best practices for and actually
funding the planning work to incorporate
sidewalks, bike paths, and a range of other features
that will make it possible for kids who are interested in
walking to school to be able to do that. Melody Barnes:
Great. Yes, right on the front row? Give her the microphone. Sorry about that. Steve Kroft:
Thank you. Steve Kroft, Cleveland
Plain Dealer. I wanted to ask about the
concept of food deserts and the healthy food
financing initiative. Presumably, you’ve talked
with supermarket CEOs and executives. I’d like to know what they tell
you is the reason that they do not locate in neighborhoods with
a lot of population density but that do have the food deserts. Do you believe them? And why is it the federal
government’s responsibility to basically help them finance
supermarkets when the population is there? Melody Barnes:
Sure. Secretary Donovan:
We had a lot of experience with this in New York City when I was Housing Commissioner there,
developing a set of standards. What you often see is a lack of
information about the purchasing potential in those communities. So I think there are
things that we can do, getting more information out to
companies about the purchasing potential. But I think the single biggest
barrier that we’ve seen, particularly in public housing
communities or other types, very, very difficult
to get retail in there, particularly with the right size
floor plates for supermarkets in many communities. So one of the things that we’ll
be working on as we redevelop, say, public housing through our
choice neighborhoods initiative is making sure that there is
available space of the right size and dimensions for a modern
supermarket to be available. The other thing I would mention
is a lot of this is also access to fresh food, as
well, in food deserts. It’s not just places
for supermarkets, but it’s the opportunity
for growing fresh food. A lot of investments
we’re making, particularly in communities
that have been hard hit by foreclosures and abandonment,
there is an opportunity for urban farming, and we’ve been
doing that in a number of cities around the country through
investments we’ve made in the neighborhood
stabilization program. I think another opportunity
is the connections. We’ve been working with the
Department of Agriculture to do food systems planning that
allows connections to be made with those neighborhoods to
surrounding farmers within the metropolitan area to set up
whether it’s farm markets in those communities, and even
to grow foods within a public housing development. There’s nothing like the
experience of a young child growing vegetables and
understanding the connection between healthy foods and seeing
it before their very eyes. And so we work a lot, just like
White House garden does that, in public housing, in
other communities, to make sure that we have land
available for those kinds of gardens. Secretary Sebelius:
The other piece of this, and I think it’s one of the reasons that it’s so important to
have this multi-agency look, often a big purchaser in any
area can be the school lunch and breakfast program. So changing the
school guidelines, driving the opportunity to
purchase more local fruits and vegetables then creates a demand
that may or may not be on the radar screen right
now for grocers, but quickly comes
on the radar screen. So, you know, as
a former governor, we saw this in communities. It’s ironic in a very rural
breadbasket state that we had food deserts, but there were
areas where it was tough to get a grocery store to come in with
a full range of produce until you actually engaged one of the
local institutions to be a major purchaser, and then that stream
of revenue was pretty apparent. So having the Department of
Agriculture keyed in with the housing, with others, I think,
can create some financing incentives that may or may not
be readily apparent right now. Deputy Secretary Merrigan:
Just one last little thing. I want to throw something out. The First Lady said its rural
and urban food deserts affects all of the areas of the country,
and you look at the FY-11 budget proposal, it doesn’t seem to be
the largest pot of money you’ve ever seen, but we are thinking
very creatively when it comes to food deserts. So, for example, a lot of rural
communities that need help, they don’t have the population
density to support a brick and mortar grocery store operation,
as many of us may conjure up in our mind. And so we were looking at
things like developing mobile supermarkets where a mobile
grocery comes to your community, and it’s there on Wednesday
afternoons from 4 to 8, along with the book mobile and
the community health facility that comes in. So, there are a variety of
strategies that we are all working on in concert
to address this issue. Melody Barnes:
Right. Just to, I think, underscore
what Kathleen was just saying, so this isn’t the federal
government coming in and saying, we’re putting a
grocery store here. This is the federal government
trying to leverage, also leverage private dollars to
serve as an incentive to come up with really ingenious and
creative ideas to bring fresh foods and access to fresh foods
and vegetables to communities that don’t have them. And we’ve seen this work
very, very successfully. One of the most successful
communities that some of us have visited was in Philadelphia. So that’s, I think, a shining
example of one place where this can happen quite well. Why don’t we — I’m sorry. Who said follow up? Jane Black:
Can I follow up — Melody Barnes:
Okay, go ahead. Jane Black:
Hi, I’m Jane Black. Jane Black from the
Washington Post. I just have a question
about the access, because there’s a lot
of talk about access, but not quite as much talk about
affordability of fruits and vegetables. I mean, there’s this idea that
if you just put a supermarket or put the vegetables in the corner
store that people will buy them. And one of the big battles is
kind of trying to make the cost of the healthy food as
affordable as the junk food, if you will. And, you know, that’s going to
be played out in the farm bill and in subsidies, and there’s
been less luck than some people would like sort of taking
subsidies away from some people. So my question is, is there
anything in this proposal or on the horizon about you working
to make these products more affordable when it comes to the
farm bill or elsewhere so that people can buy them,
once they have access, so that people can afford them? Melody Barnes:
Sure. Deputy Secretary Merrigan:
Well, I’m going to share, Jane, some of my personal shopping experiences, as
relevant as they are. I actually think that fruits and
vegetables are not as expensive as people believe they are and
that I know for many of us a lot of the money is spent in those
internal aisles in the grocery store where a lot of your
processed foods are sitting and your kids are tugging on your
arm sleeve asking you to buy. I think that it’s a more
complicated effort that requires education. It’s a whole of
government approach, because it’s about time and
convenience and access, and it’s really a
community-wide support. One of the great examples that
we’ve all paid attention to as we’ve been developing this
is the Shape Up Somerville Initiative in Massachusetts,
where I’m from. It can’t be government
doing it alone. It’s not going to be a local
community doing it alone. It’s got to be foundations and
the schools and the school PTAs. And really, it’s complicated. But getting people to eat
more fruits and vegetables, and this I will leave to
Secretary Sebelius to discuss, but it’s a complicated thing,
and it’s not a price driven alone challenge
that we must meet. Jane Black:
So now to — part of this being increase subsidies for fruits and vegetables, because of
course it is part of the problem. I understand it’s a multi
— it’s a complicated issue, but certainly
price is one issue, and that’s one thing
that’s not addressed. Melody Barnes:
Well, and certainly price — and we started out when the person raised the question about
the soda tax or sugar tax, and that’s an issue that
if you look at this report, we acknowledge what’s going on, both with regard to subsidies and with regard to taxes, and what states and localities are doing, that this is an issue that we have to take on and do further study. And we encourage and recommend
that further study be done there, because we’ve
received some information, but in all cases
it’s not conclusive. So we draw from what we know,
and we recommend that there be further studies so that we
can determine what will be appropriate next steps. And I’m getting the sign; I was
going to take a question here, so this will be
the last question. Chris Anderson:
Chris Anderson, Cable Access. I just wanted to ask whether,
how you plan to tap into the kids and draw them
into these programs, into the food nutrition programs
and the activity programs? Will that happen through
the school system? And then as you have children
who grow up presumably as they are more nutritionally savvy,
as they grow up to be healthier adults, are we looking at
potential savings in terms of the bigger picture
down the line? Is that part of what
the thinking is also? Melody Barnes:
Sure. Well, I think taking your
question in reverse, I mean, we know that we spend about $150
billion annually on diseases related to obesity. So, diabetes, heart
disease, et cetera. So it’s critical, and I think
one of my colleagues said this at the top of this event, that
we take this issue on now so that we aren’t addressing
these issues in the future. It’s critical, obviously,
as a cost issue, but also from a health
and moral standpoint. We want our children to grow
up healthy and secure and more physically fit. Related to that in
the fitness issues, certainly the schools are an
excellent place for us to engage. We’ve seen a wonderful reception
from the education community on this issue, and we
know through recess, and for physical activity,
and our U.S. Healthier Schools Challenge, that those are wonderful ways to do it. Also, the reconstitution of the
President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Nutrition, as we
reconstituted it this year. You know, there are probably
some of you here who won the President’s Physical Fitness
Test when you were in school. I know I still have
my little badges. So that’s a way
to encourage kids, but we also know that we have
to do this with parents and in communities. So looking for ways for kids to
have outlets not only through sports leagues, but through
noncompetitive play and encouraging that. Sean was talking earlier about
the built environment so that kids can bike to school and
they can walk to school. So there are a whole number of
ways that we are doing this. The critical thing is that
we are thinking across the landscape. What we can do, state and local
government, private sector and, as I said, most importantly,
empowering parents so that parents are saying to their
kids and recognizing, yeah, I’ve heard 60 minutes of
play a day is important, get up and go outside and play
and feel safe and secure that their children can do that and
not have to worry about them. So those are some
of the examples. I don’t know if any of my
colleagues want to add anything to that. But those are some of the
examples in the way that we are approaching this. And with that, I’m going
to have to conclude. Thank you so much for your
questions and your interest. And we look forward to talking
to you further in the future about this initiative. Thank you.

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