March 15th, 2011
01:19 PM ET
WASHINGTON (CNN) - In an era of tightening budgets, First Lady Michelle Obama told city officials from across the country Tuesday that they must not lose sight of the economic impact the childhood obesity epidemic has on their communities.
“The last thing you need during times like these is a new issue on your plates,” Obama acknowledged to local officials from across the country Tuesday at the National League of Cities Conference in Washington, D.C. But the obesity epidemic is one of the many culprits responsible for pressuring local budgets and stifling economic growth – “50 million dollars per 100 thousand residents,” in the cities with the 10 highest obesity rates Obama said.
“Childhood obesity is affecting your workforces too – obese children are less healthy and miss more school on average,” leading to more parental tardiness and absenteeism at businesses in their communities, she said. “When we talk about childhood obesity we are talking about the workforce you are trying to build, businesses you are trying to attract, budgets you are trying to balance everyday,” Obama said warning that businesses may be reluctant to invest and build in communities with an unhealthy future workforce.
Casting the effort as bi-partisan in nature, Obama said communities might try anything from building a grocery store to revitalize a neighborhood, to building more sidewalks to help reduce health costs and strains on local budgets.
In addition to her remarks, the first lady has been traveling the country to explain the long-term consequences of childhood obesity for the economy and national security. In a January visit to Fort Jackson in South Carolina, Obama said the epidemic has an adverse effect on the military’s ability to recruit with over 25% of 17-24 year olds deemed too overweight to serve.