BLACK VOICES
07/23/2013 04:40 pm ET | Updated Jul 23, 2013

Michelle Obama, Keynote Speaker At NCLR, Discusses Obesity Among Hispanic Children

Watch live streaming video from nclrannualconference at livestream.com

NEW ORLEANS -- Michelle Obama had no problem connecting with the Latino audience at the 2013 National Council of La Raza’s (NCLR) conference in New Orleans: she started with food.

“Many of my best memories from childhood center around food, for me it was Southside’s ribs, for you it might’ve been abuela’s tortillas, or tia’s arroz con pollo,” the first lady said, referring to her own grandfather, who was called "Southside" for the area of Chicago where he lived.

Obama was the keynote speaker for this year’s NCLR conference, a huge event held annually that deals with Latino issues from health to immigration. She took the opportunity to discuss an issue that affects the Hispanic community greatly: childhood obesity.

“Forty percent of Hispanic children are overweight and 50 percent are on track to develop diabetes,” the first lady said. “While food might be love, the truth is we are loving ourselves and our kids to death. We need to step up, we need to start questioning the behaviors and beliefs that are making our kids sick.”

Hispanic obesity rates are higher than rates for non-Hispanics. In 2010, Hispanics in the U.S. were 1.2 times as likely to be obese than non-Hispanic whites, according to the Office of Minority Health.

Obama is addressing this problem. Her “Let’s Move” initiative focuses on the childhood obesity epidemic in America, finding ways to educate parents to help them and their kids lead a healthier life. Since this problem is affecting Hispanics in the U.S. and other countries in the Western Hemisphere so greatly, it made sense the first lady would emphasize the importance of her cause during the conference.

“The good news is that right now we have everything we need to reclaim our children’s health if we’re willing to step up,” Obama said.

She urged the audience to make use of the power the Latino community has as consumers, to start holding big companies responsible for how they advertise unhealthy foods to Latino children.

A study titled “Food Marketing to Children on U.S. Spanish-Language Television” revealed that Spanish television programming for children has more junk-food ads than the same type of shows in English. Obama pushed the Latino community to speak up and stop these types of actions from big companies.

“The Latino community’s buying power is more than $1 trillion, you can transform the market place,” she said, as the room burst into applause.

Today, in part as a result of the first lady’s campaign and other efforts to overcome childhood obesity, results are starting to show. A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in January 2013 showed that obesity rates among preschool children in low-income families have dropped modestly.

“Childhood obesity rates are beginning to drop in cities and states across the country," Obama said.

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