Michelle Obama Talks Obesity, Breastfeeding with Congressional Black Caucus

First Lady Michelle Obama gave a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus yesterday, discussing the epidemic proportions of childhood obesity in the black community and what we can do to turn the tide. She has been actively promoting her “Let’s Move!” anti-obesity campaign for months now, and also recently spoke to the NAACP about these same issues. The statistics that Mrs. Obama
cites are downright frightening: 40% of African-American kids are overweight or obese,
nearly 50% will develop diabetes in their lifetime, 40% are never breastfed. While we’ve
slowly been making progress in regards to the breastfeeding rates, we still have a
long way to go when it comes to the health and quality of life of black children. In fact,
if we keep heading down this path, this generation will be the first to actually be less healthy than their parents.

How do we encourage families to make the necessary changes in order to improve the quality of their lives? As Mrs. Obama points out, these are not discrete issues with a simple solution. How do you encourage your kids to get outside and exercise when you live in a neighborhood where the streets aren’t safe? How do you tell parents who live in “food deserts” to give their kids more fruits and vegetables?

And how can parents who are struggling to put any food on the table at all worry about a child who is a “little thick,” when their local school system is failing and money is tight. It’s easy to put these issues on the back burner when there are other things to concern yourself with that seem more pressing. Of course obesity is not a problem just for African-Americans or even low-income people. I am completely middle class, live in a great neighborhood and don’t have much stress in my life besides the usual worries that come with being a mother. But still, I’ve struggled mightily with my weight my entire life. I don’t want to pass on any bad habits to my son, but even at age three I can see he has a sweet tooth. And in our household, where both parents are working outside of the home full-time, it’s tempting to order out or drive-thru after a long day of work, rather than take the time to put a healthy meal on the table.

In the black community we have also not only accepted that many of us will be overweight, but for the most part, we’ve embraced it. We’ve had to create our own images of what is beautiful and desirable and our idioms (“don’t nobody want a bone but a dog!”, “everybody like a little jelly on they biscuit!”) reflect that. I’ve often joked that I know it’s time to go on a diet when I start getting extra attention and whistles from black men. We’ve also come to accept that things like diabetes and heart disease are just a part of our lives. I mean, didn’t everyone’s Nana have “sugar”? Perhaps, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Particularly because we already know the ways to a healthier lifestyle, we just need to begin implementing them.

One of the many solutions to the obesity problem offered up by Mrs. Obama in her speech was to promote breastfeeding–particularly in the black community– which was greeted by a round of applause. As the recent CDC Breastfeeding Report Card revealed, we did not meet our Healthy People 2010 goals when it came to breastfeeding rates at 6 months or 1 year. In addition, we know based on a 2006 report that only 58% of black women ever breastfeed. Studies have shown again and again that breastfed babies are less likely to be obese as adults. We also now know that breastfeeding, even just for one month, helps prevent moms from developing Type II diabetes, you know, the kind you get from being overweight. In fact, every disease and condition that breastfeeding helps to prevent, from breast and ovarian cancer, to asthma and heart disease, is more prevalent and proves more deadly in the black community.

I love Mrs. Obama’s campaign because it tackles the obesity problem from every angle and requires all of us to get involved. She said in her speech yesterday, “But while government has a role to play here -– in raising awareness, and securing resources and pushing things forward -– when it comes down to it, no one here in Washington knows our communities like we do. The folks in Washington don’t have the kind of personal relationships or know-how that it takes to get things done on the ground. So I’m not just here today to talk to you about the problem. I am also here to enlist each and every one of you in our fight to find a solution. We need folks like all of you, who are leaders in your communities, we need you to start a conversation, to get involved with groups who are already making progress, and to bring folks to the table to attack this issue together. We need all stakeholders involved, and we need every resource at our disposal.”

Community leaders, doctors, teachers, non-profit organizations like La Leche League and Best for Babes, moms like you and me. What can we do to help make it easier for mothers to breastfeed? How can we provide support and encouragement? How do we ensure women get the correct information to ensure that they are able to make an educated decision when it comes to how they feed their babies?

What are you doing in your area to help our cause?

By Elita of Blacktating.com for the Best for Babes Foundation ©2010

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9 Comments | Last revised on 09/16/2010

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