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First Lady Michelle Obama comes to California to announce the official launch of The California Endowment's Building Healthy Communities Initiative

SAN DIEGO, CA – First Lady Michelle Obama came to the Building Healthy Communities’  (BHC) City Heights site on Thursday, April 15th, 2010 to help T he California Endowment's President and CEO Dr. Robert K Ross officially launch the ground-breaking ten-year initiative in partnership with her Let’s Move! campaign to end childhood obesity.


“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 event took place at New Roots Community Farm, a 2.3 acre project of the International Rescue Committee that helps more than 80 farmers grow healthy produce for their families and neighbors in the City Heights section of San Diego.  Before making remarks, Dr. Ross and First Lady Obama toured the farm and met with three farmers.


“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.”


The Endowment's bold, new 10-year program Building Healthy Communities Initiative is determined to transform the health of kids and families in 14 California communities. Before the event began, Mrs. Obama met with representatives from each of the 14 areas the Building Healthy Communities program targets.


“I want to acknowledge the fourteen community leaders who are here, the BHC partners who are representing all segments of this state,” the First Lady said. “I know everyone couldn’t be here… but I know that you’ll send back my excitement, my gratitude and just ensure them that we’re supporting the work that that they are doing. It is a model for the nation, for the world.”


More than 250 people gathered at New Roots Community Farm in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego to celebrate the announcement and the media coverage was robust. Mid-City CAN and International Rescue Committee put in hundreds of staff hours to help make the event happen.


The Endowment's 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 California Endowment is also actively looking for partners in the business and philanthropic communities. At the event were: the founder of QualComm, Dr. Irwin M. Jacobs and his wife, Joan; City Heights Business Association executive director Enrique Gandarilla; Price Charities senior vice-president Tad Parzen; and, from Kaiser Permanente, medical director Dr. Jeffrey Weisz and executive director Mary Ann Barnes.


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. Some of the grants will directly assist the communities with the implementation of their approved action plans, while the rest of the support will provide technical assistance to the communities and their participating organizations, research, evaluation, and policy support.


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 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, kid’s 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 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.