First Lady Michelle Obama Joins The California Endowment to Announce Building Healthy Communities Initiative

“Healthy Places = Healthy People”
10-Year Program in 14 Urban, Suburban and Rural Communities Across California
$100 Million This Year; Plan is $1 Billion overall;
Success in Targeted Communities to Drive Wide-Scale Change

SAN DIEGO--()--First Lady Michelle Obama today joined Robert K. Ross, MD, President & CEO of The California Endowment, one of the nation's largest health foundations, to discuss her Let's Move! campaign against childhood obesity and to announce The Endowment's Building Healthy Communities Initiative and its partnership with Let’s Move!

The Endowment's Building Healthy Communities Initiative is a bold new 10-year program that’s determined to transform the health of kids and families in 14 California communities. More than 250 people gathered at New Roots Community Farm in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego to celebrate the announcement. City Heights is one of the 14 selected communities.

“The `Building Healthy Communities' initiative is based on a simple idea – that healthy children come from healthy environments,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “If a family lives in a neighborhood with a grocery store nearby, they’re more likely to put fresh fruits and vegetables on the table. If there’s a safe, inviting park down the street, parents are more likely to let their kids play there after school or on weekends. And if our environment is clean and pollution-free, children are less likely to get sick and more likely to spend time outside. The Building Healthy Communities initiative is all about giving people the tools they need to make healthy choices for themselves and their families.”

The Farm is a 2.3 acre project of the International Rescue Committee that helps more than 80 farmers grow healthy produce for their families and neighbors. Before making remarks, Dr. Ross and First Lady Obama toured the farm and met with two farmers. Mrs. Obama also met with Building Healthy Communities representatives from each of the 14 targeted areas.

“The First Lady’s attention on the issue of obesity and the health of our children has put rocket fuel under the very issue that The California Endowment’s Building Healthy Communities is designed to address. Where we live profoundly affects our health, it determines the quality of our lives and those of our children,” Dr. Ross said. “Simply put: if we can make our places healthier, we will make our people healthier.”

Dr. Ross noted that, according to an Alameda County Public Health Department report, people in the Oakland Hills are likely to live 14 years longer than those in West Oakland.

TCE Board Chair Tessie Guillermo said, “First Lady Michelle Obama’s leadership on the critical health issue of childhood obesity is making a difference in the lives of children here in California and in the future cost of health care in this state.”

The Building Healthy Communities Initiative is the result of years of work by The Endowment and its grantees that determined:

  • If unhealthy places can make people sick, then healthy places can contribute to their health.
  • The people who live and work in a neighborhood know what's wrong, know what needs to be fixed and, if given training and support, can take action to fix what needs to be fixed.
  • Sick people cost more money to treat than healthy people.

The California Endowment has dedicated almost all of its grant-making over the next 10 years, starting with $100 million this year, to the Building Healthy Communities Initiative.

Through the initiative, The Endowment and its local partners will carefully assess communities to identify areas for improvement and make needed changes. Local actions may include:

  • Getting healthy foods into schools, where under-served kids get most of their nutrition.
  • Identifying parks that need better lighting to enhance safety.
  • Working to reduce the exposure of children to the exhaust from nearby freeways.
  • Securing funding for bike lanes to promote fitness during commutes.
  • Providing access to education and services that reduce tobacco, alcohol and drug use.
  • Recruiting career mentors to promote economic opportunity for young people.
  • Ensuring every child has a health home -- a health practitioner or clinic that knows them.

The results could be remarkable:

  • Easy access to large supermarkets is associated with lower obesity prevalence and adolescent body mass index (BMI) in adolescents.
  • If neighborhoods have five parks or other places to play, kids odds of being obese decrease 25 percent and their odds of getting the recommended amount of physical activity increase 20 percent.
  • According to the Trust for America's Health, an investment of just $10 dollars per person per year to increase physical activity, improve nutrition and prevent tobacco use could, within 5 years, save California $1.7 billion and the entire nation more than $16 billion annually.

The Endowment will use the successes achieved in the 14 targeted communities to influence leaders and grassroots efforts alike to drive wide-scale adoption of the Building Healthy Communities approach and create a new shared vision of health – one in which a healthy community is the foundation for a better life and brighter future.

The initiative targets urban, suburban and rural communities across California:

  • The City Heights community of San Diego,
  • Coachella and Thermal in Eastern Riverside County,
  • Central Santa Ana,
  • Central Long Beach,
  • Boyle Heights, in East Los Angeles,
  • Targeted sections of South Los Angeles,
  • South Kern County,
  • Central and West Fresno,
  • Southwest Merced and East Merced County,
  • South Sacramento,
  • East Salinas,
  • East Oakland,
  • Richmond and
  • Del Norte County.

Planning grants were given out June 1, 2009 and grants to begin the Building Healthy Communities change efforts will be released this year as each community plan is accepted and formalized.

Note to Editors: Stills/footage of First Lady, Dr. Ross farm tour & remarks avail; Opportunities in targeted communities also avail


The California Endowment
Jeff Okey, 415-283-6914


The California Endowment
Jeff Okey, 415-283-6914