US First Lady Michelle Obama on Wednesday teamed up with major food retailers to launch an attack on "food deserts" as a key part of the US battle to bring down childhood obesity.
"We can give people all the information and advice in the world about healthy eating and exercise, but if parents can't buy the food they need to prepare those meals because their only options for groceries are the gas station or the local minimart, then all that is just talk," Obama said.
Many US inner cities are "food deserts," or areas where shops selling healthful foods are rare or expensive, and residents, many of them poor, live on cheap processed meals and sugary drinks, which pile on the pounds while providing scant nutritional benefits.
On Wednesday, major food retailers including Wal-Mart, Supervalu supermarkets and Walgreen's, pledged to open more than 1,500 shops over the next five years to sell fresh, nutritious foods in communities throughout the country that are currently underserved.
The fight against "food deserts" is one of the linchpins in Obama's "Let's Move" campaign, launched last year to try to bring down the staggering rate of childhood obesity, which affects one in five children in the United States.
When overweight children are included in the tally, one in three American kids is found to have a weight problem.
"There's a reason why we set a goal that every family in every community in America would have access to fresh, healthy, affordable food," Obama said.
"'Let's Move' is about giving parents real choices about the food their kids are eating.
"If a parent wants to pack a piece of fruit in a child's lunch, if a parent wants to add some lettuce for a salad at dinner, they shouldn't have to take three city buses or pay some expensive taxi to go to another community to make that possible," she added.
"They should have fresh food retailers right in their communities - places that sell healthy food at reasonable prices so that they can feed their families in the way that they see fit, because when they have those choices, that can have a real, measurable impact on a family's health."
Melody Barnes, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, said making healthy food affordable and accessible "is critical if we are to address the issue of childhood obesity.
"Most Americans are startled to know that one in three American children is overweight or obese," she said.
Nearly half of kids with weight problems live in poverty and in neighborhoods with no shops that sell fresh foods, she added.
According to the White House, some 23.5 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, who currently live in "food deserts" would benefit from having a shop selling fresh food in their neighborhood.
The new shops would not only be a step in the right direction in the fight against obesity but would also help to raise people out of poverty by creating tens of thousands of jobs in their communities, Barnes said.
When she launched "Let's Move" last year, Michelle Obama called childhood obesity an "epidemic" and "one of the most serious threats" to US children's futures.
Ending food deserts is just one of the pieces in the First Lady's broader initiative to "solve the problem of childhood obesity in a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight."
The other pillars of "Let's Move" include making American kids more active, improving the quality of school meals, offering kids more safe opportunities to be physically active, and educating them on good nutrition and healthy eating.