First lady Michelle Obama urged the nation's mayors Wednesday to join her in a campaign to reduce childhood obesity.
In a speech to a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Mrs. Obama said locally elected leaders are among the first to see what's happening to the people in their communities.
Her remarks, coming on the anniversary of her first year as first lady, marked the beginning of what Mrs. Obama has said will be a major initiative on her part to raise awareness about childhood obesity.
A formal rollout of her program is planned for next month. Mrs. Obama has said she will look to businesses and nonprofits, community and health centers, educators, religious leaders and government to help.
Childhood obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years, and the latest figures show that about one in three children are overweight. Nearly 2 in 10, or 17 percent, are obese, or dangerously overweight.
"The statistics still never fail to take my breath away," Mrs. Obama told the standing-room only audience.
The first lady said she knows budgets are tight everywhere, but she said the nation can't afford to continue on the current path, which means that nearly half of all Americans will be obese in just 10 years.
Higher obesity rates, she said, pose a threat to the economy and the nation's collective health through increased spending on obesity-related conditions like diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
"Leadership is about having the foresight and the courage to make those sacrifices and investments in the short run that pay big dividends, often paying for themselves many times over in the long run," she said.
Mrs. Obama also highlighted steps some mayors have taken to help their communities get healthier.
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett challenged the city to lose 1 million pounds and created a Web site where people can find weight-loss tips and track their progress. Some 40,000 people have signed up and, together, have shed more than half a million pounds. Cornett lost 40 pounds.
In Somerville, Mass., Mayor Joseph Curtatone partnered with local eateries to promote those that agree to offer low-fat options and smaller portions.
In Bowling Green, Ky., Mayor Elaine Walker launched a Web site to encourage residents to exercise by helping them find information on parks, trails and upcoming bike rides, and runs and walks.
Mrs. Obama said Cornett's example shows the power of raising awareness of an issue.
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