Va. first lady fights childhood obesity

Jennie Lynn Price
Capital News Service

Michelle Obama is not the only stylish first lady working to prevent childhood obesity. Virginia’s own first lady, Maureen McDonnell, also has made the issue a top priority.

McDonnell spoke Friday at the Allied Health Caucus, a bipartisan group that meets weekly to discuss health issues facing Virginia. The caucus is chaired by Delegates Rosalyn Dance, D-Petersburg, and Scott Garrett, R-Lynchburg.

McDonnell recalled her struggles with weight growing up as one of nine children in Northern Virginia.

“They chided me for being fat,” she said. “And I can still remember my dad saying, ‘She’s not fat, she’s just pleasingly plump.’”

The first lady said she appreciated what her father was trying to do, but the issue was still a source of embarrassment.

The experience made her stubborn, she said, and determined not to compromise on her own personal health and weight maintenance.

“As first lady, I made health and wellness one of my priorities, as it’s been in my life,” McDonnell said.

The caucus meeting came the day after Virginia Healthy Youth Day, at which McDonnell was the keynote speaker. The event, sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, promotes physical fitness, good nutrition and healthy lifestyles for the state’s children.

In her talk Friday, McDonnell stressed the importance of simple, effective measures as part of a larger philosophy of preventive, proactive health care.

She said adults should impress the importance of healthy eating and exercise on children while they’re young – something that could prevent future disease and associated medical costs.

“Nothing is more important than our children’s health,” McDonnell said.

Americans have embraced a culture of convenience, she said. As a result, people eat prepackaged foods laden with preservatives, often on the go due to busy schedules.

Marty Kilgore, executive director of the Foundation for Healthy Youth, also addressed the caucus and highlighted some findings from the agency’s 2010 obesity research survey.

According to the report, 22 percent of Virginia children between the ages of 10 and 17 are overweight or obese. The highest rate – 28 percent – is in Southwest Virginia.

McDonnell said her goal is to stem the growing tide of obesity in Virginia so that the state can become a shining example for the nation.
“When we make unhealthy lifestyle choices,” she said, “we compromise our ability to live each day to the fullest.”

For more information about the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth, and to read the agency’s survey about obesity among the state’s children, visit www.healthyyouthva.org.

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