First Lady Discusses Plan To End Childhood Obesity
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April 16, 2010 – Why did First Lady Michelle Obama visit San Diego this week? We speak to reporter Tom Fudge about the First Lady's plan to end childhood obesity.
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GLORIA PENNER (Host): First Lady Michelle Obama was in City Heights yesterday. She was here to promote her campaign to end childhood obesity - but more specifically to help launch an effort to transform more than a dozen California neighborhoods into healthy communities. Here's what she had to say. MICHELLE OBAMA (First Lady): We have to work now to start to curb the epidemic of childhood obesity in this nation. We all know that this phenomenon is relatively recent. It is not something that has been a challenge for us all this time. This is a new issue, because as I've said time and time again, back when we were growing up we naturally lead reasonably healthy lives. It's just the way we had to function, it kept us healthier that we could imagine. Most of us lived in communities and went to schools in our communities, so we walked to school, so if nothing else, you were getting exercise just walking to and from school. PENNER: Well City Heights is one of the neighborhoods chosen for the Building Healthy Communities program. KPBS reporter Tom Fudge was at the New Roots Community Farm in the City Heights area yesterday, and he joins me know to explain how the program will impact San Diego. Welcome, Tom. TOM FUDGE (KPBS Reporter): Good to be here. PENNER: Tell us more about why the First Lady was here. FUDGE: Well the First Lady was here in her effort to fight obesity. She is the head of a national group, which is called Lets Move, which is aimed at getting kids to exercise and helping to solve the obesity problem. And as you said, she was in San Diego to help out another effort, which The California Endowment is behind. The California Endowment is going into 14 California communities, low-income communities, and trying to transform them into healthy communities in a variety of ways. And they're doing this by spending $100 million every year. PENNER: So is that what the Building Healthy Communities initiative is? FUDGE: Yes. It's called the Building Healthy Communities and they're looking at 14 California communities and one of them was, one of them is City Heights. And one of the reasons Michelle Obama came to City Heights I think is because of the good pictures. They have a community farm there where local residents are planting fresh fruits and vegetables, and I think the White House probably thought that it would be nice to get pictures of her going out into the gardens and talking to the local farmers. PENNER: So, specifically, what are the obstacles to these communities having healthy communities? FUDGE: Well, there's an expression a lot of KPBS viewers have probably heard before, it's called food desert. And a food desert is usually a low-income neighborhood in an urban area where it's very difficult to get fresh fruits and vegetables because grocery stores don't cater to low-income neighborhoods. Very often these people have to settle for fast food, or stuff that they can get at 7-Eleven. So they're considered food deserts where you can't get healthy, nutritious food. Also the problem comes down to safety. A lot of people think these neighborhoods are just not safe enough for kids to be comfortable walking to school or running around in the street. PENNER: All right, so we've been talking about City Heights and Michelle Obama, but how would this kind of initiative extend to other communities in San Diego? It's not just City Heights that has this problem. FUDGE: Well, it's not just City Heights, but The California Endowment, through its program has chosen to focus on certain communities, and City Heights is one of them. That's where they're going to be spending their money and trying to make a difference. And we don't know exactly what they're going to do, but the community gardens is going to be part of it, farmers markets is going to be part of it to try to make better food available to them. Urban planning and transportation issues are going to be addressed, so that it's easier to walk to where you need to go, and more comfortable to walk to where you need to go, so that you can get more exercise. PENNER: Is there any kind of integrated effort to bring in other efforts around the county to work with these groups? FUDGE: Well, that's what they say. I think it's a little early to tell how well these different programs are going to work together, but there are lots of different programs that are focusing on this environmental influence on health and obesity. One of them is Lets Move, the First Lady's campaign, another is Building Healthy Communities, which we've talked about, and also the County of San Diego has just received $16 million from the CDC, Centers for Disease Control, to do some of these same things. To work with public infrastructure, work with food supply, and try and make these low-income neighborhoods healthy. PENNER: So there's a real focus here, and just a few seconds Tom, how are we going to know if all these efforts have been successful? How will we measure it? FUDGE: Well, that's a good question because millions and millions of dollars are going to be spent on these programs. How do you know if they are going to make a difference? Well, I asked the folks at The California Endowment, and they said that they will measure results and they expect to get results, including lower rates of obesity.