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Michelle Obama explains how the First Family fights fat; Now, yours can, too

Michelle Obama Obesity kids meeting c-span 4-7-10

Michelle Obama 'Let's Move' town hall on obesity, as provided by the White House

MS. SWAIN of C-SPAN:  Good morning on this beautiful spring day, and welcome to the White House. We are very pleased to be here in the beautiful and historic State Dining Room at the White House for a dialogue on childhood obesity and childhood health with the First Lady, Michelle Obama.

We’re very pleased for this program, which is live on C-SPAN this morning, to have students from all around the Washington, D.C., area and students watching all across the country.  Some of them will be calling in with questions on our discussion on childhood obesity. (See video below.)

We’ll be here for 45 minutes altogether, and we all hope to learn more about this topic and why it’s so important to young people’s health and how to stay healthy, and also why the First Lady is so passionate about it.

So boys and girls here in the White House, would you please join me in welcoming the First Lady Michelle Obama to our discussion this morning.  (Applause.) 

MRS. OBAMA: Hello, everybody. (Applause.) Well, hello.
    
AUDIENCE: Hello.

MS. SWAIN:  Well, we’re going to just plunge right into it, and as we get started here, I thought -- I’m going to ask you a question, and then we’re going to introduce the students in the room.  I had a very important question as we were getting ready this morning, Mrs. Obama, from a young man sitting in the back. We keep using this big word “obesity” and he wasn’t sure what it meant.

MRS. OBAMA:  Yes, yes. Well, it is a pretty big word, but I think it -- you know, just to make it simple, it’s when people’s weight gets higher than it should be. And there are very scientific measurements for it. Something called Body Mass Index is what a lot of doctors try to measure. But....

...as you grow, your weight and your height should remain fairly consistent, but people’s Body Mass Index really varies. 

So there’s no one right weight or height to be.  If you look in my whole family, we’ve got people who are 6’6” and people who are 4’11”. And weight and height really depend on you as a person. But what this is all about, really, is about making sure that you guys are healthy, that you’re eating the right foods, that you’re getting enough exercise. This isn’t about how you look, this isn’t about appearances, because we all have to own and be proud of exactly who we are. 

I am 5’11”. I was probably this height when I was very young, and my parents taught me to be proud of the way I look. And this isn’t about how you look. This is about how you guys feel. It’s about health.

So I think that’s the big takeaway. And you can talk to the doctors and the experts and the scientists, if you want to get a more definitive answer to what obesity technically is, but it’s really about our health. It’s about your health. Does that help? Yes, yes? All right, good. It’s a good way to start.

MS. SWAIN:  The way that this event all came together is that students around the country have participated in an annual documentary contest that our network C-SPAN holds, called “Student Cam”, and this year we had 1,000 documentarians --
    
MRS. OBAMA:  That’s great.

MS. SWAIN:  -- from all around the country.  But interestingly, health was the number one issue among young people.  We had 128 different entries on aspects of health, so it’s much on their minds.  The economy, number two.  (Laughter.)  So not surprised there.

But today we’re going to meet one of the very special documentarians, Matthew Shimura, who is here as the first prize middle school winner; he’s been thinking about childhood obesity for a while.  Matt is in the front row and will meet you in just a minute.  Matt, welcome and congratulations for your winning documentary.

We also have young people who entered the contest who are watching from all the country -- also did, on the topic of childhood obesity, so they are thinking about this and have questions for you.  But let me introduce you to the young people who are here at the White House with us today.  And I’m going to ask you to stand up with your group when I call the name of your schools, so your parents can see that you’re here. First of all, where’s the Hamstead Hill Academy in Baltimore?  Welcome.

MRS. OBAMA:  Welcome, you guys.

MS. SWAIN:  Stuart Hobson Middle School in Washington, D.C. -- sixth through eighth grade.  Hello, Stuart Hobston, looking good.  Next is Alexandria, Virginia -- Lyles Crouch Elementary School.  Hello, Lyles Crouch.
Now, we’ve got a group of Girl Scouts from the national capital region who have been involved in health and wellness issues.  Welcome, ladies.

MRS. OBAMA:  Good to see you all.

MS. SWAIN:  How about the Alliance for a Healthier Generation?  Where are those students?  Good morning and welcome.  And then we have a number of student journalists who are covering this event.  Where are our student journalists?

MRS. OBAMA:  Oh, good, it’s the journalists.

MS. SWAIN:  They’re right near the professional journalists in the back, too, so --

MRS. OBAMA:  All right, watch them.  Watch them behind you. (Laughter.) 

MS. SWAIN:  Then is there any person here who hasn’t had a chance to stand that I didn’t introduce your group?  If not, please stand up now.

MRS. OBAMA:  And make sure you stand up, because your parents are watching.

MS. SWAIN:  Okay, it looks like we’ve got everybody.

MRS. OBAMA:  All right, great.

MS. SWAIN:  Well, if you could begin by telling us -- in the past every First Lady has had a special issue.  Mrs. Reagan was worried about drug use by young people.  Mrs. Bush was involved with literacy and reading.  How did you come to choose this issue, and why?

MRS. OBAMA:  Yes, I’ve said this so many times before.  I came to this issue as a mom way before we were anywhere near coming to the White House.  I mean, you guys know I have these two beautiful little girls, Malia and Sasha -- they’re not so little now -- but I was like a lot of your parents.  I worked a job, my husband worked a job, we were very busy, you’re trying to make sure that you’re doing the right thing as a mom and keeping your job together, and our health habits got way out of kilter because we were eating out too much.  I didn’t have time to cook. I had to buy a lot of quick packaged things, so my kids were drinking a lot of sugary drinks, and you were rushing to make sure that the lunch was good and something that they’d eat.  We were probably eating too many things out of a box.

So we were doing probably what most of your parents do, because you’re just trying to get through the day, and everybody has got too many activities, and you’re shuttling to work, and you’re eating on the run, and you’re missing dinner together.  We were living that life. 

And it seemed fine, I thought I was in control until one of my kids’ pediatrician kind of tapped me on the shoulder, because he was regularly measuring that BMI, that Body Mass Index, that I talked to you about.  And we were lucky that we had a pediatrician that really checked this pretty accurately, because we lived on the South Side of Chicago, predominantly African American community, and weight issues and obesity issues are pretty significant there, so he was tracking that.  And he told me, you know, you may want to watch it.  And I didn’t think we had a problem because I look at my kids and I see perfection, just like your parents see.  They’re perfect, they’re beautiful.  And it wasn’t that they weren’t, but it was just that things were just tipping over to the point that we needed to make some changes.

So we made some pretty simple changes in our household.  We made sure we got more fruits and vegetables and dinner.  I cooked more.  We ate out a little bit less.  We limited desserts to weekends -- I know, not every day.  I took out sugary drinks so my kids were drinking more water.  We made sure they were exercising; at least moving around everyday, so no TV during the weeks -- week.

So those little changes made a pretty significant difference.  And my view is that if I could make those kind of changes and it could help my family in such a significant way, I wanted to make sure that we were doing that with the rest of the country, because my view is that if I’m having this problem in my household and I don't know it and it was unclear to me, then what’s going on with everybody else, people who don’t have information or don’t have pediatricians who are working with them? 

So when we planted the garden, the White House Kitchen Garden a year ago, we did it to start a conversation with young people about eating healthy.  Maybe they would get more engaged in fruits and vegetables if they were involved in growing them. 

And what we found with working with the kids that helped me with the garden was that if kids planted it and were involved in it and understood it, they’d eat it and they’d be excited about it.  And they could help not only change their own health habits, but they’d go back home and start teaching their parents, because once I started talking to my kids about what they needed to eat, trust me, they were monitoring me way more than I was monitoring them.    

They cleaned out the cabinets.  They looked at labels a bit more.  They made decisions about the kind of snacks they would eat.  They started making pretty healthy choices for themselves, and a lot of times, when I wanted to cheat, they’d pull me back.

So my hope is that young people around the country will take that kind of interest in their own health.  And then to see the statistics, seeing that one in three kids in this country is overweight or obese, and that we’re on track for the first time ever for our kids to live shorter lives than we do.  That in and of itself was terrifying enough for me.  I wouldn’t want that fate for my girls, and I don't want it for any of you or any other kids in this country.

So we started “Let’s Move” and hopefully it will catch on, and you guys are going to be the key ambassadors to really make this happen, because this is really about you and it’s about the kids that are going to follow you. So I'll stop there.  I can go on and on and on.  (Laughter.) 

MS. SWAIN:  How can they be ambassadors?

MRS. OBAMA:  You know, I think first you can take the lead in your own homes.  This is what I tell my kids, my girls.  It’s not about never having the stuff you want, right?  I would love it if I could live healthy on pie and French fries.  I’d do it.  I’d eat it.  But the fact of the matter is, is that you can’t.  We are made as humans to need a balanced diet with enough fiber and enough vegetables and fruits.  And we have to be educated about what that diet should look like, and then we have to start making choices to not have candy every day, even if you can; to not ask for those desserts all the time, even if you can; to think about learning how to cook for yourselves, how to bake a chicken and make a little pasta; how to think about putting more water in your diet. 

Those are decisions at your age.  You’re the age of my girls.  You guys can make those decisions, and you can help your parents, because they’re trying -- they’re just trying to get you to eat.  That's all we want to do.  We want you to eat something.

And if you complain and you don’t want to try new things, if you’re hesitant, if you are going to get that -- you know, buy those chips instead of some pretzels, if you’re not going to make good decisions, it’s really not a whole lot that parents can do, because you’re not with us all the time, you’re at school, you’re with your friends.
Michelle Obama at White house obesity event 4-7-10
So my whole goal in my kids -- for my kids is to try to get them to think about the choices they’re going to make in their own lives.  And I tell them it’s not about who they are today, it’s about who they want to be when they’re 20 and 25. 

I have them thinking about what kind of moms are you going to be, you know?  If you don’t know how to feed yourself, then how are you going to feed your own kids?

So it’s really about you guys taking responsibility of your own future in so many ways and helping your parents and your families make those kind of decisions.  I think that that's the first thing that you can do, because that's your power.  You don't have to live in a certain neighborhood. 

You don’t have to know anything more to make better decisions for yourself and be willing to make some of those decisions on your own.  You don't need a teacher or a parent to do it.  You guys have the power to start doing it.  And once you do it, your parents will follow.  That, I know.

MS. SWAIN:  Well, let’s introduce Matt Shimura officially.  Matt is sitting in the front row and he came all the way to the White House from Honolulu.  We’re very proud of his accomplishment. 

We had 1,000 entries in this StudentCam documentary, and Matt Shimura’s documentary on childhood obesity took first place in middle school.  Matt, congratulations.  (Applause.)

Now, Mrs. Obama announced her big project on childhood obesity in early February.  By then you had finished your documentary, so you’ve been thinking about this for a while.  What got you interested?

MR. SHIMURA:  What got me interested was when I looked at our state’s furlough Fridays.  It’s when we don’t have -- the public schools don’t have school on Fridays, so they don’t have lunch and they don’t have P.E. on those days, so they’re lacking nutrition and physical exercise.  So I thought that could lead to childhood obesity, and that's how I chose that topic.

MS. SWAIN:  What did you learn while making your film?

MR. SHIMURA:  I learned, like, how to make a great documentary and express my ideas through filmmaking.

MS. SWAIN:  We’re going to show just a minute of it for our viewers and students watching around the country.  Here in the room -- you’ll just hear it, as I told you before -- but we’ll hear the audio of the documentary that you made, and then we’ll come back and have a question from you for Mrs. Obama.

(The documentary is shown.)

And that was Matt doing the voiceover in his documentary, as well.  Congratulations on your work.  You have a question for Mrs. Obama?
    
Q    Mrs. Obama, how do you think the government can improve nutrition and physical activity in schools?
    
MRS. OBAMA:  You know, I think that first of all, one thing I just want to say is that the solution to this challenge has to come from the bottom up.  The government can’t be in a position telling people to do -- what to do in their own homes, and that generally doesn’t work.  So it’s really going to require all of us working together -- the federal government, business leaders, food manufacturers, farmers, students, nurses -- everyone has to come together. 

But specifically, when you think about the federal government, when it comes to school lunches, the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act is one of the ways that the government supports school lunches.  And one of the things we’re trying to get done, because it’s time for it to be reauthorized, is to get more money put into implementing that act so that we change the kind of food you all get in your lunches so that there are more fruits and vegetables added; that there’s less processed food; that the quality of the food goes up, because a large percentage of kids in this country are getting half of their meals at school. 

So if we can do a better job in the schools of providing better options that are healthier, more nutritious, then we’re going to go a very long way.

But this act also works to encourage more schools to become U.S. Healthier Schools.  And these are schools that are designated as already taking those steps to change the way they do things, providing healthier meals, incorporating nutrition education into the curriculum, making sure that they’re making time for physical activity and recess -- because in many schools around this country, with budget cuts, oftentimes that's the first thing to go. So we can’t tell kids, you know, “Get more exercise” and then take away recess and all physical activity out of the school.

So there are schools out there that are finding ways to put that kind of exercise and activity back into the curriculum.  The Healthier Schools Challenge recognizes that, and we’re going to work to double those numbers of schools that qualify.

So there are many, many ways that the federal government can work on -- through the Child Nutrition and Reauthorization Act. 

Also, through the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, we can work with grocery manufacturers to make sure that the foods that are produced in the stores have labels on them that help families make decisions.  Because, you know when you walk into a grocery store, you walk down an aisle?  My kids know the brands.  Oh, that’s “X” brand!  They know the commercial.  But when a mom or dad picks up the cereal, how do you know whether this is something that's nutritious?  How many servings? 

And right now the labels are really confusing.  And if you’re busy and you’re trying to get in and out of the grocery store, you don’t have time to read labels or to make the kind of calculations.  So we’re trying to work with the FDA and food manufacturers to simplify those things so that it’s easy, so that you guys can walk in and look at foods and make decisions about what actually is going to be healthy and how much of it to eat.

So those are just some of the ways that the federal government can be involved.  But more importantly, this is an effort that's going to require everyone.  No one is off the hook on this one.

MS. SWAIN:  Our next question is going to come from a student in Jenks, Oklahoma, who’s watching us on television.  After that, we’ll take a question from the room.  Who has a question so we can get ready?  Okay, this young lady that's on the row, you’ll be our first question after our call from Alexander England, who’s watching us in Jenks, Oklahoma.  He goes to Jenks High School, and his winning documentary was “Childhood Obesity:  America’s Underlying Problem.”  He watches C-SPAN, which we appreciate, on COX cable in Oklahoma.  Alexander, what’s your question? 

Q    Good morning, Mrs. Obama.  It is an honor to talk with you this morning. 

MRS. OBAMA:  Good morning, Alexander.  Thanks for calling in.  What’s your question?

Q    For my C-SPAN film, I interviewed the vice president of a fast food chain.  He said that he rarely (inaudible) choices based on how healthy the food is, but instead on price.  With that in mind, do you think efforts should be focused on lowering the price of healthy food?  And if so, is there anything the government can do to encourage that?

MRS. OBAMA:  I think you’re absolutely right that the cost of healthy foods oftentimes becomes a barrier.  The access and affordability of foods is a huge issue.  And with “Let’s Move” that’s one of our major pillars, is eliminating what are known as food deserts.  There are millions of kids who live in areas all throughout the country that we call food deserts.  Those are places where you can’t -- there isn’t a grocery store, there isn’t a place to buy fresh produce, healthy food. 

There are a lot of people who live in communities where the only access to food comes in the form of a convenience store or a gas station.  You imagine trying to feed your family when the closest grocery store is a train ride or a cab ride or a car ride away.  And there are millions of Americans who find it very difficult to cook the kind of foods that they know that they should, because they don’t have access.

We’re looking at starting a healthy food financing initiative modeled after some of the efforts that have been done in cities across the country and states.  Pennsylvania has managed to eliminate food deserts through this financing initiative.  With this, we’re taking money from the Treasury Department and the Department of Agriculture, and trying to leverage resources, millions of dollars, to try to encourage more grocery stores to relocate in underserved communities. 

And that way, not only do you help to eliminate the food desert issue, but you can create jobs.  You can build economies around new grocery stores relocating to communities.  I saw this firsthand in Philadelphia in a community that hadn’t had a grocery store in it for a decade.  You imagine a decade.  So if you’re 10 years old, that means you’ve grown up in a community where your mom can’t go and buy a head of lettuce.  That is a frustration, and it’s a reality in so many families’ lives. 

But with their financing initiative in Pennsylvania, they were able to partner with a chain store that came in.  This grocery store is amazing.  It looks like any Whole Foods store that you’d see in any community -- fresh produce, fresh vegetables, everything you can imagine.

And the excitement that this community feels over having this resource that they haven’t seen had just turned this community upside down with excitement.  So our view is that if we can do that in Philadelphia, if they can do it in Pennsylvania, there’s no reason we can’t do this, replicate this model in communities all across this country.

MS. SWAIN:  And we have our student questioner here in the State Dining Room.

Q    Good morning, Mrs. Obama.  How would you think schools can show students what they should eat and what they shouldn’t eat while they’re there?

MS. SWAIN:  And do you want to tell us your name?

Q    Kayla Greenspoon (ph).

MS. SWAIN:  Thank you for your question.

MRS. OBAMA:  Thanks so much.  It’s a good question.  Some -- many schools are already doing this.  I mean, one of the things I said in a speech that I did to some of the school lunch ladies, the association -- they were here in Washington -- is that we have to remember that learning doesn’t stop at lunch time.  The cafeteria is one of the most important classrooms in the school.  And, yes, during that time -- and not just that time alone, but by exposing kids to different types of foods, helping them get introduced, encouraging kids to try things that they haven’t tried -- they may try some things in the school lunch room that they can bring home to their parents.

But nutrition education is an important part of a curriculum.  And there are many schools in this country that are figuring out ways to incorporate those kind of activities into the regular curriculum.  I visited many schools in the Washington, D.C., area that have wonderful community gardens and are using those gardens to not just teach science, but to teach reading and math.  And along the way, if you’re using the garden, you’re also helping kids, again, become exposed to the different variety of fruits and vegetables that are out there.  And when kids see that in the classroom, they may be more inclined to try it at home. 

So this is why trying to increase the number of U.S. Healthier Schools is going to be really critical, because again, there are already schools who are figuring out ways to do this.  So how do we scale that up?  How do we take those best practices that are happening in schools already and make sure that they’re happening in all schools, for all kids around the country?

     And it’s going to take some resources.  And it’s going to take the folks who provide the food for the schools -- there are companies out there that get contracts to provide the school lunches.  We need them to take on ownership, to make sure that the lunches that they are providing aren’t just cheap and easy, but that they’re low in fat, salt, and sugar.

And many of them have already agreed that they’re going to do a better job.  But we have to hold their feet to the fire, and that’s another way that you all can be involved.  Look at the lunches that you’re providing -- being provided.  Talk to your teachers about the content.  Ask questions.  Figure out whether they’re balanced or not, because the more you educate yourselves, you guys can set the tone in your own schools in so many ways.  Slowly, but surely, you can change the culture in your own environments.

MS. SWAIN:  Mrs. Obama talked about the fact that they’ve planted a garden here at the White House to help with healthier eating.  How many students in this room have a garden at home?
    
MRS. OBAMA:  That’s nice.

MS. SWAIN:  And how many of you who don’t?  And a garden doesn’t have to be land.  If you live in the city, you can grow it in pots, as well.  How many of you are going to talk to your parents about planting a garden this year?  I’ve got a few converts. 

Who in this room has a question?  All right, you’ll be next.  But we’re to take another call from around the country.  This is Sarah Gabriel.  She is in Cedar Falls, Iowa, which is a Mediacom system.  She’s an honorable mention winner in our contest.  And her video was “Improving School Lunch:  Too costly, or a way to bend the cost curve?”  Sarah, you’re on the line now for Mrs. Obama.  What’s your question?

Q    Hi.  My question is also about improving the choice quality in schools.  And I go to a public school where they do something to....

try to implement higher nutritional standards.  But because my school still sells à la carte snack items to generate revenue, many students still just buy unhealthy snack items.  So I was wondering if you have any ideas about how schools might address this issue?

MRS. OBAMA:  Sarah, thanks for the question.  You make a great point about the vending machines and about the la carte lines.  These standards have to apply across the board.  And we have to make sure that kids have healthy options. 

I am a proponent of vending machines, because, kids, when you all are hungry, you’re going to look to a vending machine for a snack.  The question is just what do we have in those vending machines and how do we think about the content of the food in those machines. 

There’s nothing wrong with a vending machine per se.  But you don’t have to always have a sugary drink in a vending machine.  You can have a healthy sports drink.  You can have water.  You can have trail mix.  You can have pretzels, nuts, crackers, cheese.  There’s so many things that kids would eat -- they just gravitate to what’s there.

So I think that that’s part of what we need to do, as we work through these nutrition guidelines, that we can’t just look at the food on the cafeteria line, but we have to look at all the food that’s available to our children.  Again, that’s why this isn’t a problem that can be solved by the federal government -- the school community, the local community, has to want to make these changes.  And they have to make decisions about what’s going to go in those vending machines instead of what’s already there; how do you work with your local vendors.

We can work on high and try to set the tone, but really what happens at your schools and in your communities is really more up to you, your mayors, your city council people, than anything that can happen out of the White House.  And it really should, because folks know their communities better than we’ll ever know. 

But the fact of the matter is, as this question points out, is that we have to make sure that all of the options are good ones and not just some of them, because you guys are pretty sneaky, you’ll find a way to get to that bag of chips.  (Laughter.)    

MS. SWAIN:  How many of you in fact, when you’re looking for snacks, at least feel that you have an option in your vending machines at school to have a healthy choice if you want one?  Would you raise your hand if you have options for it?  It looks like we have a little work to do in some of the schools.

MRS. OBAMA:  Yes.  No, we do.  We do. MS. SWAIN:  What’s your question?  And tell us your name too.

Q   Well, my name is Terrick Mack (ph).  I’m an eighth grader at Stillhouse (ph) Middle School.  And my question is about false labelings on nutrition labels.  And I wanted to ask what regulations could be put in place so that we can eliminate -- that we know that we can ensure that false labels won’t be put on nutritious facts.

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, as I mentioned earlier, the FDA is going to be working with the grocery store manufacturers this summer to work on the whole issue of labeling.  And our hope is that because the grocery store manufacturers have -- they want to be helpful in this effort, that this is one of the ways, one of the easy ways that they can be helpful, is figuring out how do you make, as I said earlier, simple, clear, accurate labels that give the facts in a way that the average consumer, the average purchaser, can figure it out and trust in the information. 

But the FDA, the Food and Drug Administration, is going to be setting up new guidelines for labels.  We want to do it with the help of the grocery store folks, because it’s their products, and we’re hopeful that they’re going to join in.  But you’re absolutely right, you can’t tell families to make smart decisions if they’re confused about what to buy. 

We’ve also talked to them about how they market to kids, right?  I mean, the majority -- I don’t want to quote percentages, but there are a lot of commercials that come on kid TV programs.  My kids are watching it, with the sugary food and the tasty this and the -- that’s what you guys are seeing a lot of. 

And one of the things we’re asking them is that as you -- as those grocery store manufacturers think about the products they’re going to market to kids, what percentage of those products are really healthy and how much of it is sort of kind of healthy, but it’s the stuff that you guys will push your parents to buy.  And how do we change that?  How do we become more responsible in what is advertised to you guys, right, so that you’re not bombarded with messages that say this sugary stuff is really what you want, really, right, you don’t really want the apple. 

And it’s not enough just to change not marketing the not-so-good stuff.  They have to help us market the good stuff to you.  And they know how to sell stuff, right?  I mean, I’m sure all of you could raise your hand and name your favorite brand of anything, right?  You know the jingle and the tune.  You can recite the words by heart.  But if you’re hearing those same songs and messages about good foods, trust me you’ll be -- those ideas and thoughts will be ringing in your head just as much as the sugary foods are.  So we need to do a better job of getting you all the information that you need to make good choices.

MS. SWAIN:  Once again, let’s see a hand for a future question.  All right, this young man in the blue shirt, you’ll be next.  But first, we’re going to take a call.  And this is Kyle Street.  And Kyle is an honorable mention winner for his video called “Childhood Obesity.”  He is a student at Throop Elementary in Paoli, Indiana.  And Avenue Cable is where he watches C-SPAN.  Kyle, you are on and what’s your question?

Q  Well, first of all, I’d like to say thank you for this opportunity.  And in our small rural community, volunteers have just started a wellness program to promote a healthier lifestyle.  (Inaudible) physical activity at a young age (inaudible) offering organized sports, team (inaudible).  Mrs. Obama, as you mentioned, physical education programs are getting canceled or cut back because of the struggling economy.  What other ways can the community help motivate kids to stay active and exercise?

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, thanks for the question, Kyle, and it’s important.  I’ve spent a lot of time talking about food, the food side of this equation.  But as Kyle points out, the physical activity piece is just as important.  Because the truth is, is that when I was growing up as a kid, we didn’t worry about what we ate.  And we ate the cupcakes and this -- we didn’t eat it every day.

But the difference was that when I was growing up, kids -- every kid played outside for hours and hours, because, number one, it was safe and, number two, we only had like seven TV channels and not 700.  So there was a period at which kid TV was over, so you were bored and your parents were going to kick you out of the house.

 MS. SWAIN:  And no computer, right?

MRS. OBAMA:  No computers.  Life has just changed.  And now in my household, my kids could watch SpongeBob 24 hours a day, the same shows over and over and over again.  I even know all the episodes.  (Laughter.)

So you guys just have -- you’ve got computers, you’ve got your iPod.  A lot of what you’re drawn to has nothing to do with movement.  And if you’re not signed up with an activity or you don’t have a ballet class in your neighborhood -- or maybe it’s too expensive, because all these after-school programs are just really, really expensive for parents and families -- if you’re not engaged in any of that, then a lot of times kids nowadays are just sitting in front of the TV or watching -- playing on the video games.  And guidelines basically say that kids should be getting, what is it, 60 minutes of exercise, physical activity every single day.  That’s really what you’re supposed to do, right?

And when I was growing up, 60 minutes of playing around outside was nothing, it was just play.  So things have gotten tougher for you all in so many ways.  So we have to do a better job -- and not just in schools, but outside of school -- to figure out how do we get you guys moving again. 

And, again, some of that is on you all.  Some of that are the choices that you make, because you’re at the age now where you can make a decision to sit in front of the TV, or get up and jump rope, or walk up and down the stairs, or do a pushup, or figure out something fun, or turn on the radio and dance.  I mean, exercise isn’t about sports.  It’s not always about throwing a ball.  It’s just about moving, right?  And those are some choices that you have to make.  But we have to do a better job in giving you guys options to play. 

And Kyle’s community, it sounds like what they’re doing is what we need to have happen in all communities across this country, where the adults -- the mayors and the city officials and the businesspeople and the community groups and the churches -- are figuring out how do we open up parks and spaces for you guys to play?  How do we organize leagues that aren’t going to cost an arm and a leg?  How do we open up gym facilities for longer periods of time?  Those solutions have to come from the bottom up, because it’s going to be different in every community.

But getting you guys moving, which is one of the reasons why we’ve called our campaign “Let’s Move” is because we really don’t have time to wait.  We can’t let you guys sit around for another generation and not make physical activity a regular part of your lives.  So we need to be modeling what’s going on in Indiana.  Is that where Kyle is from?

MS. SWAIN:  He is, yes.

MRS. OBAMA:  And it’s a small community.  They figured out a way to make it happen.  But there are also bigger cities like Somerville, Massachusetts, where they’re figuring out how to just restructure that whole city so that they’re focused on health and physical activity.  And we’ve got to be doing that in cities and towns all across this country.

MS. SWAIN:  What’s your question?  And what’s your name?

Q    My name is Francis Wells.  And my question is, what is the main cause of childhood obesity?

MRS. OBAMA:  You know, I don’t know that they know that there’s one single cause for it.  Sometimes, it’s genetics.  And a lot of times, it’s lifestyle.  As I said before, things have changed.  The way we live as Americans have changed.  We walk less, sometimes because it’s not safe to walk; sometimes it’s because the schools your parents need you to go to are further away than they used to be.  I know when I grew up, I went to the neighborhood school around the corner and everybody went to the school in their neighborhood.  So you could walk to school, right?

But if you’re being -- going to a magnet school or a charter school or a new school somewhere else where you don’t have the ability to walk, what are you -- you’re in your parent’s car, or you’re on a bus, or maybe the walk is shortened.  And then you get to school and there’s no physical education, there’s no P.E., there are no sports programs.  And there were always those when I was growing up.  You played outside before school.  You had recess.  You played out during lunch time.  And you played in the playground after school.  And now, kids are going straight home to sit in front of the TV, do their homework, usually watching TV, or on videogames. 

And parents are much busier, right?  Because of the economy, a lot of parents have to work.  You guys know.  Your parents would love to give you every single minute of their time but they’re trying to pay the bills.  And that may mean that both parents or one parent has got two jobs.  So parents are busy and it’s harder to get you guys where you have to go.

So things have changed in society, and slowly but surely I think that that’s affected how healthy kids are.  And we’re eating more processed foods, we go out more, fast food is no longer a treat, right?  It’s something that you do several times a week because it’s convenient.  So we’ve changed the way we live and it affects you all.  And we got to sort of dial that back.  We have to rethink those kinds of things to figure out how do we create healthy lifestyles in the world that we live in today.  How do we do that for you.

And again, you guys are going to be helpers in this because, you know, the question that I have for you is how do I get you to turn off the TV?  How do I get you, in this culture of all this TV and all these videogames, what do I do as a mom to get you to move?  I don’t know.  I’m working on with it my kids.  But you guys are going to have to help us figure out how to engage you in a way that’s going to make this fun and not work so that you want to do it and don’t feel like you’re being forced to do it, right? So we’re going to need your help in figuring this out.

MS. SWAIN:  We have about nine minutes left in our conversation with Mrs. Obama about childhood obesity.  Who will be our next questioner?  Let me get someone -- you’re going to be next, right in front of the camera -- okay, so just a second.  And in between, we’re going to hear from Lauren Shatanof.  Lauren is in Weston, Florida, Advanced Cable, Falcon Cove Middle School and a documentarian with the film titled “America’s Biggest Challenge:  Obesity.”  Lauren.

Q    Hello.  It is a great honor for me to speak with you, our First Lady.  Mrs. Obama, my question is:  A country facing challenging economic times, with limited resources to address childhood obesity, what measures will you take to ensure that this problem is prioritized?

MRS. OBAMA:  Well, I think this initiative is one of the biggest ways that I think that I can help.  Having the platform of the White House is really helpful in getting attention to stuff, right?  A lot of times when I do something, a lot of cameras show up and people tend to watch and write about it.  Sometimes they write about more than what I’m wearing.  (Laughter.)  So I think it’s my job to help shine the light on things that are already working.  So that’s one of the reasons why I chose this as my initiative.

I also think that one of the ways that I think we can move this effort, one of the reasons why I think that we can be successful, is that it doesn’t require -- I don’t believe, and others may have struggled a bit more -- it doesn’t require whole-scale changes in your life.  The beauty about kids, you guys, is that you’re young, your metabolisms are really healthy, which essentially means that once you start moving and eating right you’re going to -- you guys change really quickly.  You’re growing and everything is working right.

So if we make some little changes, get you guys moving more, a little more movement, a little less TV, if we take out sugary drinks, if we can make school lunches better, if we get you guys educated and your families about what to eat -- these are all things we can control and it doesn’t take millions of dollars and a whole bunch of legislation to get it done.  We don’t have to count on people passing stuff, thank God, to move this problem along.  And if we all get pumped up and empowered, right, we can move this issue along. 

And that’s why I’m so excited about it and that’s why I’m counting on all of you.  Because my thing is that if we get you thinking differently now as middle schoolers and folks headed to college, you’re going to enter adulthood with a whole different baseline of understanding about nutrition.  So you’re not going to carry these problems into your adulthood and you’re going to help your kids learn a bit differently.

So you guys are the beginning of the solution, right?  Our goal with “Let’s Move” is to ensure that kids born today, right, grow up healthy.  And that means you’re going to be taking the lead. 

So if you’re thinking differently about how you eat, if you’re thinking about access and affordability to foods, if you’re thinking about growing your own foods, if you’re thinking consciously and making different choices and knowing that exercise isn’t a luxury, it’s like a necessity to keep up alive and you’ve got to find the thing that you’re going to do that gets you moving every day -- if you’re growing up like that, then you’re not going to have the bad habits that a lot of us grown people have a hard time getting rid of.

So we’re trying to teach you guys differently.  That doesn’t take -- that’s not rocket science.  That’s good information and a coordinated effort and I think that the country from what I can see is ready to respond.  People around the country -- I haven’t gotten a negative response from anybody -- not people, members of Congress, not people in the media, entertainers.  Everybody believes that this is an important issue and they think that they can help move it.  And they’re ready to help make you guys healthier.

So if all of us are online, right, then there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to significantly change this trend in your lifetime.

MS. SWAIN:  What’s your question?  Would you stand up and tell your name, too?

Q    My name is Robert.  Good morning.

MRS. OBAMA:  Good morning.

Q    How do you feel about childhood obesity and adult obesity -- do you think they’re the same problem?

MRS. OBAMA:  You know, I am not an expert on sort of the science of this issue.  What I do think is that it’s, as I said, it’s harder to break habits when you’re older.  The longer you do something, right -- eat a certain way, get adjusted to a certain kind of food, get used to a certain taste, get used to not exercising -- it’s hard to break that habit.  It’s hard for grownups to make changes.  It just is.

You guys are still open.  Your brains are still taking in new information.  Trust me, you can learn to love vegetables -- (laughter) -- even though it doesn’t feel that way.  Your taste buds change over time.  Right now if you get used to the taste of a really sugary food, your taste buds are going to adjust to that as being normal, right?  But if you start drinking more water and trying more vegetables, over time you’re taste buds will adjust to where that’s what you crave.  So you can adjust yourself at a young age to want healthy things.  But if all you’re eating is fast food and junk food, that’s just what you’re going to want.

So I just think it’s easier to help people change habits earlier.  That doesn’t mean that it’s not hard for kids to make different choices.  It’s just if it’s hard now, it’s going to really be hard when you get to be an adult.  So why get there, right?  Why not stop it now?  Why not get you guys in the habit of exercising and moving now so that you’re not struggling with these issues for the rest of your life?

MS. SWAIN:  Katie Romos (ph) is in Caro, Michigan, Charter Cable, and also a student documentarian.  Katie, what’s your question?

Q    Good morning, Mrs. Obama.  How do you think parents should address the issue of obesity with their young children?  Should they take a strong obvious approach or a more subtle approach that does not let the child know (inaudible) situation?

MRS. OBAMA:  Yes.  You know, I think it’s a real delicate balance because you want to make sure that kids feel good about themselves, right?  And I think that all parents know their kids better than anyone.  That’s one of those things where it’s -- that’s not -- you can't get involved in how somebody deals with their kids. 

But in the process, I think that we have to make sure that our kids still feel good about themselves no matter what their weight, no matter how they feel.  We need to make sure that our kids know that we love them no matter who they are, what they look like, what they’re eating.  That’s really important.

But what I found in my household is that making small changes and involving my kids in the changes without making it a problem, right -- without saying we’re now -- “Now you’re in trouble, now you’re no longer be able to do this or you’ll have to” -- it’s not a punishment.  I did it more as a, “Let’s figure out how we can do this.  Do we really need this many sugary snacks, and have we thought about what’s in our food?  Why don’t we think about this?”  And I tried to engage them in the process so that it didn’t feel like you’re being punished for something and that they felt more ownership over it.

So, I don't know, that might be viewed as a softer approach, but again, this isn’t about how our kids look -- this is about how our kids feel and it’s about helping our kids take ownership over their lives and what they eat and making sure they have the information that they need to make those choices.

MS. SWAIN:  Do you mind if we go over one minute for a student who’s been on the line for a long time?

MRS. OBAMA:  I don’t mind at all.

MS. SWAIN:  Okay.  This is Reshad Jaji (ph) who is in Cohoes, New York, and Boght Hills Elementary School, a Time Warner community.  Reshad, are you there?

Q    Yes.

MS. SWAIN:  Do you have a question for Mrs. Obama?

Q    Yes.

MS. SWAIN:  Go ahead and ask it please.

Q   Good morning, Mrs. Obama.

MRS. OBAMA:  How are you?

Q    Fine.  Good morning, Mrs. Obama.

MRS. OBAMA:  Good morning.  (Laughter.)

Q    (Inaudible.)
MRS. OBAMA:  I think it’s a great idea.  I think that the more information, the better.  That’s my bottom line on this issue.  There isn’t a thing as too much information.  The question is, what information and what format is right for what age and what community at what time.  And that’s, again, why I think that decisions about what’s taught in the schools and how should be something that principals and teachers and parents in those schools really think through and make sure it makes sense and works for the kids in their community.

MS. SWAIN:  Mrs. Obama told us how cameras follow her wherever she goes, which is why it’s easy to highlight an issue.  I brought along a photograph from the newspaper from last week when she and her two daughters went to New York City and all of the photographers followed as they went to a pizza parlor.  So I think the message here is it’s possible to eat pizza and still eat healthy?

MRS. OBAMA:  Absolutely.  Like I said, I don’t believe in any absolutes in this thing.  It’s really about balance, right?  Can you have junk food every day?  No.  You just can’t.  I wish the answer was yes.  We talk about this in my household all the time.  Why on Earth is there not -- why doesn’t healthy food taste like candy?  And that’s really the question.  And it’s one of those dilemmas of humankind.  I mean, the thing that is best for us isn’t always the thing that tastes the best, right? 

     But that’s life, right?  I mean, that’s -- those are the beginnings of the lessons of life.  There’s a lot of stuff that you really need to do that you don't want to do, but you really need to do it.  And I know you’re looking because I’m sure your parents have told you that, right -- but they’re right.  And eating right is one of those things.

So in my household there is no -- there are no absolute nos.  We eat a lot of great, fun stuff.  We eat junk food, snack food -- but it’s a balance.  And desserts are on the weekend.  We set up some basic rules.  But sometimes you break that because if there’s a special occasion or a birthday party at school, there’s no way I’m going to tell my kids, “No, you can’t have that cake.“  It’s not going to work.  It would never work.

So balance and moderation is really to me the key not just to how we eat and exercise but how we live in this country.  And hopefully you guys develop those -- that sense of balance.  Know that you can’t have candy every day.  And if you’re doing it, you’re ruining your teeth, you’re making your parents mad, and you’re not going to be healthy.

MS. SWAIN:  Well, Matt Shimura, thank you for your documentary that brought all of us together today at the White House, and congratulations.

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you, Matt.

MS. SWAIN:  And Mrs. Obama, on behalf of our students here and also watching around the country, thank you for your hospitality and the discussion.

MRS. OBAMA:  Thank you, guys.  Great questions.  (Applause.)      ###

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Photos: Reuters; Associated Press.

 
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Uh I guess she forgot to mention that some of them smoke cigarettes. Hmm...maybe to keep their body mass index in line. Oh. And eat a lot of burgers. And are still skinny.

Sorry All---we need to acknowledge what got us into the obesity epidemic. Wayward food guides and diets. They are still with us destroying our best efforts. Greens and grains as sole 'health' prompters have advanced obesity.(My new word: Carbohydritis).
Our advice has to be blunt, action now! We have a lot to correct: hartsmartliving.com


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A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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