WASHINGTON — Michelle Obama congratulated dozens of local elected officials, including councilwomen from both Richland County and Columbia, at a White House ceremony Wednesday that celebrated healthy lifestyles.
“You do not have to do what you’re doing,” she told the group. “It means a great deal, not just to me personally as the first lady, but to all those kids that are living in your communities who are counting on all of us to get this right.”
Data handed out at the event showed that Richland County was above the national average in the rise in obesity from 2001 to 2009. Obesity in both males and females grew more than 8 percentage points during that time; 33 percent of men and 41 percent of women in the county are considered obese, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
“It was kind of sobering,” Columbia Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine said about learning the obesity figures. “These statistics indicate to me why we need to step it up.” Devine and Richland County Councilwoman Julie-Ann Dixon were among 39 officials from across the country invited to the White House.
More than 300 cities participate in the collaboration between the first lady’s Let’s Move! initiative and the National League of Cities. Elected officials are encouraged to meet certain goals including expanding participation in the National School Lunch Program, access to playgrounds and healthy food options in publically owned venues. Columbia is currently in the top 20 of participating localities.
While Let’s Move! Cities, Towns and Counties only focuses on children, Devine said that promoting a healthy lifestyle for families has a large effect on children who see their older family members as role models. She added that family fitness programs and Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin’s annual bike tour have had the added advantage of giving families ways to spend quality time together.
Dixon not only praised the health benefits of slashing the obesity rate in Richland County, but also gave a more practical, business-oriented reason for residents to stay healthy.
“We want to attract businesses coming to Columbia,” she said. “And if they know that our residents have a healthy lifestyle, then they will want to do business with us.”