By Monica Land
CLINTON – First lady Michelle Obama and Food Network star Rachael Ray visited about 400 students at Northside and Eastside Elementary Schools in Clinton Wednesday in celebration of the third anniversary of Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign.
As part of the celebration, Mrs. Obama highlighted change happening across the country to keep children healthy – from new school lunches nationwide to localities where the childhood obesity rate is declining.
Mrs. Obama praised these changes, and called on leaders from across the nation to keep working to improve our children’s health.
“…There’s a reason why I wanted to come here to this state for the very first day of our Let’s Move anniversary tour. And that’s because what’s happening here in Mississippi is really what Let’s Move is all about. It’s the story of what you all have achieved here that we want to tell…”
Mrs. Obama said when she visited the Magnolia State just three years ago, Mississippi had been declared the most obese state in America. And many thought childhood obesity was an impossible problem to overcome. But state leaders had a “different view on things,” she said.
“Under the leadership of your former governor, folks across this state had already started stepping up to tackle this challenge head on,” the First Lady said. “Your state legislature passed a law bringing more hours of physical activity and health education into your classrooms [and] your state Board of Education set new standards for food and drinks in our school vending machines.”
Also, because of the bi-partisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by Mrs. Obama and Ray, and signed into law by the President in 2010, the 32 million students who eat lunch provided by their school are now seeing more fruits, vegetables, low-fat or fat-free milk varieties, and whole grains; less saturated fat and sodium; and proper portion size on their lunch trays.
Mrs. Obama and Rachael Ray chose to highlight school lunches in Mississippi, however, because the state’s childhood obesity rates have declined by 13 percent among elementary school students in recent years.
“We’ve seen real, measurable declines in the rates of childhood obesity right here in Mississippi…,“ Mrs. Obama said. “And there is no reason why this success can’t happen in cities and states all across this country, if we’re willing to work for it.”
Mrs. Obama praised Ray’s efforts saying that she had been “an important voice and advocate” for making sure children and communities make healthier eating choices. She further said Ray came to Mississippi to help the students celebrate their accomplishments.
Mrs. Obama and Ray then hosted a cooking competition between school chefs to highlight the new healthier school lunches.
Two teams – cafeteria chef Fannie and celebrity chef Sunny Anderson versus cafeteria chef Wendy and celebrity Ryan Scott – competed in the Let’s Move! Cafeteria Cook-off to make the most delicious, healthy school lunch.
Ray and Mrs. Obama watched as student judges scored the lunches from blind taste tests.
Before the winner was announced, the First Lady applauded the work of Fannie, Wendy, and their peers in school cafeterias across the country.
“These are major, major achievements,” Mrs. Obama said. “And I know that getting to this point hasn’t been easy. I know that a lot of folks had to put in a lot of time and effort to make all this possible. And I’m particularly proud of all of the school chefs, the food service workers at schools like this one all across this state, and all across this country. And I want to take time to recognize those folks in the kitchen who do the hard work of cooking for our kids and loving every minute of it.”
The cooking competition between the school chefs is scheduled to air on March 11 on “The Rachel Ray Show.” Mrs. Obama will also talk about childhood obesity.
“When we passed historic legislation to improve
school lunches for the first time in 15 years, these were the folks who had to totally transform their menus in a matter of months,“ Mrs. Obama said of school cafeteria chefs. “They went from frying to baking. They had to work with totally new ingredients. And they had to satisfy both strict nutrition requirements and, as we know, picky eaters.”
Growing evidence suggests comprehensive efforts such as making healthy foods available in schools and communities and integrating physical activity into people’s daily lives are making a difference and contributing to these declines.
The Clinton Public School District (CPSD) in Mississippi is a prime example of such a comprehensive effort.
“We know what works. We’re seeing it right here. We know how to get results,” the First Lady said. “Now we just need to keep stepping up. Now we just need to keep putting the energy and the effort and the imagination behind all of this work.
That’s what all of you have done here in Mississippi. So I’m here to say, Mississippi, thank you. Thank you so much. Congratulations on your work. Thank you for taking the lead on this issue. Thank you for serving as an inspiration for states and communities across this country. And thank you for your hard work, day in and day out, to give all of our children the happy, healthy futures they so richly deserve.”