While Mrs. Obama's wide-ranging speech at the U.S. Conference of Mayors received muted media coverage because the spotlight was the stunning victory of Senator-elect Scott Brown in Massachusetts, it was no less remarkable.
Richard M. Daley, mayor of Mrs. Obama's hometown of Chicago and Joseph Riley, mayor of Charleston, S. C., attended the event along with 224 other mayors. The popular first lady, who returned to the political fray to push her husband's foundering health care bill, called childhood obesity an epidemic in America, saying it is one of the greatest threats to the American economy.
Indeed, nearly one-third of children in America are overweight or obese -- one in three, she emphasized. And a third of all children today will eventually suffer from diabetes -- in the African American and Latino communities, it skyrockets to almost half.
"If we continue on our current path,'' Obama said, "in 10 years, nearly 50 percent of all Americans will be obese -- not just overweight, but obese.''
She highlighted the ways in which obesity will tax government spending through obesity-related illnesses, including treatment for heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
To help combat the problem, she said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now offering grants to local health departments to pay for initiatives such as supporting restaurants that promote low-fat menus, supporting farmers to produce fresh fruit and vegetables in underserved area, and developing Web sites so residents can learn to lose weight. Some of these programs already are underway in such as Minnesota, Massachusetts and Oklahoma.
Other efforts include increasing the number of "healthy schools" where kids can have access to nutritious lunches, providing more opportunities for children to be physically active, and educating parents to make healthy food choices.
"In the end, I know that achieving all this won't be easy-and it won't be quick,'' she said. "This isn't the kind of problem that can be solved in one year, or even one Administration. But make no mistake about it, this problem can be solved.''