michele-obama_web.jpgMIAMI — Riding a wave of success, First Lady Michelle Obama visited the NFL/YET Center at Gwen Cherry Park to praise after-school programs for helping develop her anti-obesity initiative among thousands of youths in the nation’s fourth largest school district.

Fresh from a briefing on the topic at the White House, Obama flew to Miami to promote her Let’s Move! initiative on childhood obesity, which she launched in 2010 after studies revealed one of every three school-aged children in the U.S. was overweight or obese.

In Miami-Dade County, with a population of some 2.5 million, 67 percent of adults also have weight problems, according to health officials. Among black adults and children, the rates are even higher.

Left untreated, obesity is known to cause heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and depression. At the press conference, Obama announced that Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the

National Recreation and Park Association, two of the nation’s largest youth-oriented organizations, have committed to join the initiative. Officials of those organizations pledged to serve the estimated 5.5 million youths they cater to a piece of fruit or vegetable at each meal or snack, along with healthier drink options, including lower fat milk or water and ensure kids get 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity daily.

Hours before the press conference, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the latest obesity rates among children, showing they have dropped from 14 percent to eight percent, an achievement Obama touted in her speech.

“Healthy living brings happier lives,” she said. Since the initiative began, schools in Miami-Dade and across the nation have stepped up efforts to increase the amount of healthy foods, fruits and vegetables in cafeterias and educators have introduced physical fitness programs and classes to teach young students how to live healthy lives.

Obama and school officials agree that good health promotes academic achievement and self-esteem. “If we keep our youths moving, I know we will give children the bright future they deserve,” she said.

In Miami’s black communities, numerous fast foods outlets and restaurants serving large portions and are just steps away from the neighborhoods. School officials say parents have an uphill battle to encourage their children to exercise instead of spending hours on iPads,  video games and Facebook.

While acknowledging the challenges, Obama encouraged parents to have hope and optimism for their children. “Parents will know that all their cooking and hard work will not be undermined,” Obama said. “You don’t have to be the world’s greatest athlete to be in shape. We need to keep these kids active and moving.”

Obama joined several celebrities to spend hours Tuesday with youths of the center – which was built in the Scott-Carver area with initial funding from the National Football League following Superbowl XXIX. The facility matches Obama’s initiative with afternoon programs where nearly 200 kids regularly engage in physical activities after receiving tutoring on homework.

Prior to the press conference, Obama and television personality Mario Lopez of NBC’s Extra! entertainment news show, led a Zumba class in one of the center’s fitness rooms. Later in the day, she played a game of snag golf with the children on a temporary putting green in another room.

Former Miami Heat star player Alonzo Mourning and Jenna Bush Hager were among the celebrities attending the event. During the press conference, Obama was joined by Amy Poehler, star of NBC Park’s and Recreation comedy show in a symbolic gesture to praise Miami-Dade County Park’s Fit2Play, an after-school program which has dramatically reduced obesity among youths through vigorous exercise and nutrition programs, according to a recent University of Miami study. Obama said youths in the program are benefiting from activities such as kayaking, gardening, tennis and hiking. Poehler joked that Obama’s initiative is “taking off a little bit faster than my initiative. ‘Let’s Help Me Move.’”