By This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / Monitor Staff
Concord Monitor
March 10, 2012

Stopping childhood obesity means "getting kids in there, sleeves rolled up," first lady Michelle Obama told an audience in Penacook yesterday.

But before speaking to a crowd of adults, the first lady rolled up her own sleeves with a classroom of 4- and 5-year-olds at the Penacook Community Center.

Click here to see how childhood obesity prevention work in New Hampshire is connected from national to neighborhood levels.

She danced the "Bunny Pokey" with the 30 children, singing, spinning and shaking around before collapsing onto the floor alongside the students. She kneeled on the floor of the classroom, offering hugs and helping kids sort toy foods into groups.

And she ate snacks with the children, pausing to chuckle as one child picked up a knife to cut a banana.

"You have to peel it first," she said.

Obama came to Penacook yesterday to promote her "Let's Move" initiative to end childhood obesity. The initiative began in 2009 with the goal of ending childhood obesity within a generation. The goal is ambitious, she said, but New Hampshire is already "leading the way at so many levels."

Dr. Susan Lynch, wife of Gov. John Lynch and a pediatrician, joined Obama to visit the classroom and speak in the community center's gym. She said she's seen many children with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and psychological problems due to obesity.

"It's really heartbreaking to see this and it's difficult to treat," Lynch said. "So that's why prevention is so important."

Yesterday, the Penacook Community Center announced that it's joining the "Let's Move" campaign for child care centers, and Concord Mayor Jim Bouley announced the city is joining the branch of "Let's Move" for cities and towns. The New Hampshire Department of Education will also recruit schools to the HealthierUS School Challenge to promote healthy school environments, Obama said.

Obama said these programs will add to work already being done in New Hampshire, such as the Capital Area Wellness Coalition, which promotes exercise and healthy eating in the Concord area.

"I am so very impressed and proud," Obama said. "And I hope that other states look here for models of what can be done when people take a hold of a problem, come together and create solutions that make sense."

Hours before Obama arrived, the area outside the tiny community center was swarming with police officers, secret service members and audience members waiting to get inside.

Carol StPierre, who directs before- and after-school programs at the center, said she had been surprised that the first lady was coming to Penacook.

"It's awesome to see her come to Penacook, N.H. Our little spot," StPierre said.

As the first lady discussed the importance of healthy eating and exercise, she explained that she was there to draw a crowd and "shine light" on efforts to end childhood obesity.

"We want to do everything we can to support leaders like you, and that's why we're here. And one of the things that I have is a big spotlight," Obama said.

Obama also reminded her audience yesterday that children embrace new ideas when adults teach them that "this exercise and good-eating stuff can be fun."

The preschoolers in Penacook yesterday appeared to have fun, and weren't shy around their high-profile visitors. Lynch entered the small classroom as Obama was helping the children sort plastic food into groups of grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy products.

"I see you're all eating healthy food," Lynch told the room of silent students. "That's great."

One child quickly giggled and corrected Lynch, shouting, "those are toys!"

Later, the children did share real food with Lynch and Obama, including honey from the White House's beehive.

"Susan and I, we could have spent the entire afternoon with them," Obama said. "They are adorable and they are enthusiastic. They were embracing all these concepts."

(Laura McCrystal can be reached at 369-3312 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Penacook Community Center (PCC) is a neighborhood non-profit organization in Concord, NH that offers community programs to foster healthy eating and active living for all ages. PCC has a child care center that helps kids exercise before and after school, teaches them about eating healthy through the use of a garden, and even participated in helping Mrs. Obama and National Geographic Kids break the Guinness World Record for most people doing jumping jacks in a 24 hour period this past October. In 2009 and 2010, they participated in the NH CATCH Kids Club and Gardening Projects with the Foundation for Healthy Communities (Both projects FUNDED by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation).

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