First Lady Michelle Obama returned to her hometown today to announce a new initiative called "Let's Move! Active Schools," which aims to promote an active lifestyle in kids before, during and after school.
The initiative is a partnership between the First Lady's Let's Move! campaign and Nike, which has pledged $50 million to get kids moving. Several other organizations also have pledged support and funding to ensure that there is increased physical activity for kids in 50,000 schools over the next five years.
The organizations laid out two objectives for the program: to create early, positive experiences for kids in sport and physical activity, and to integrate physical activity into everyday life.
"This is a ground-breaking, earth-shattering, awesomely inspiring day," Obama said at the launch. "We all need to dig a little deeper, start getting even more creative… to once again make being active a way of life for our kids."
Today's announcement, staged at McCormick Place, included 6,500 Chicago Public School students, who danced, jumped and moved along with ten Nike athletes, including Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, tennis star Serena Williams, Olympic sprinter Allyson Felix and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. American Idol winner Jordyn Sparks closed the rally with a performance.
A study by Nike found that only one in three children in the United States is active daily, meaning that this is the most physically inactive time in American history. However, Let's Move! organizers say that kids who do get some form of exercise, whether through organized sports or taking the dog for a walk, excel in school and go on to live healthier, active lives as adults.
"Depressing statistics can't make us act," said James Gavin, chairman of the Partnership for a Healthier America's Board of Directors. "But if we don't change the path we're on, our children will live shorter lives than their parents."
Obama also addressed the CPS students, telling them that her own upbringing means they have a lot in common with each other.
"Growing up, my family didn't have a lot of money," she said. "I grew up in a little bitty apartment on the South Side of Chicago … Although I am the First Lady of the United States of America ... I am no different from you."
She emphasized the importance of making good choices, including working hard in school, being physically active, turning off the TV, and eating healthy food.
"You and you alone have the power to choose the life you want for yourself," she said. "You all have every reason to be hopeful about your future."
Obama said that her own athletic endeavors, including day camp at the Chicago Park District, helped her learn more about being part of a team and winning and losing with grace.
"My brother, Craig, and I, we had countless opportunities to be active every single day," Obama said. "Quality physical education comes in all different forms and it doesn't have to cost a fortune."
She specifically mentioned Chicago suburb Elk Grove Village, which starts the day with a 20-minute kickboxing time and encourages "brain breaks" throughout the day to get kids moving.
Obama, Gavin and Nike CEO Mark Parker all emphasized the importance of parents, teachers, school administrators and community leaders all working together to accomplish the goal of having healthier, more active kids.
"A united front makes me very hopeful for future generations," Parker said. "We recognize there must be a greater sense of urgency to address this epidemic."
To that end, they are seeking "champions" of the cause who will help lead schools to embrace the Healthy Schools model already being used at 15,000 schools.
"We're going to need everyone on board," Obama said. "Every single one of these kids is special … It's up to us as the grown-ups in the room to help them to fulfill that potential."
Elizabeth Diffin is the associate editor at Chicago Parent. She lives in Wheaton.
See more of Elizabeth's stories here.