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Dancing the Day Away: Kansas City Kids Get Up and Move

On Tuesday morning the auditorium at Ingels Elementary School was rockin’ and rollin’ as more than 200 students, teachers and invited guests joined with Health and Human Services staff to celebrate the one-year anniversary of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative.

I had the opportunity to join the event with Kansas City third-, fourth- and fifth-graders as they jumped and bounced in a giant conga line as music filled the room. We even had the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Power Panther mascot led the revelry while sporting a T-shirt urging students to, “Eat Smart, Play Hard.”

The energy-packed dancing came at the conclusion of an hour-long celebration of the nationwide effort to reduce childhood obesity through better nutrition and more active lifestyles. Speakers included Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser; Darlene Barnes, the USDA’s administrator for the Mountain Plains Region based in Denver; and Lisa Smith, principal of Ingel’s Elementary.

Mayor Funkhouser told the students how he was influenced by a speech that Michelle Obama made last year to a group of city officials visiting Washington. He said he borrowed several of the ideas the First Lady espoused regarding healthier lifestyles to use in his own initiative to make schools safer and more inviting places for students. The First Lady’s suggestions can be seen in Kansas City programs that encourage urban gardening, policies that encourage children to walk to school, summer basketball and soccer programs and efforts to make Kansas City more bicycle-friendly.

Mayor Funkhouser also used the occasion to announce the formation of the Mayor’s Food Policy Oversight Commission. The commission will work with food distributors and retailers to find ways to give city residents access to the healthiest food choices possible.

I praised Mayor Funkhouser’s enthusiasm for the Let’s Move! initiative, noting that he was the first mayor in our region’s four states to sign on, and urged the students to adopt the principles outlined by the First Lady in the Let’s Move! program:

They should talk to their parents about healthy lifestyles and weight and nutrition issues. Ask for apples and bananas instead of french fries. And get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day.

Prior to the close of the program, Principal Smith said the students at Ingles Elementary, which draws from a working-class neighborhood in south Kansas City, had enthusiastically embraced the Let’s Move! philosophy.  “We’ve got great kids,” Smith said. “This program reminds us to eat well and get exercise.  It helps students prepare for learning and boosts their academic achievement.”