Jennifer Fields:
Hello. I’m Jennifer
Fields from AOL Health. And I’m here at the White
House with the first lady of the United States,
Mrs. Michelle Obama. She invited us to her office
today to talk about her anti-childhood obesity
campaign, “Let’s Move!” The campaign comes in response
to some startling statistics about children today. Nearly one third of our
young people are obese, which means they’re at a
greater risk for diabetes, heart disease, and
high blood pressure. “Let’s Move!” calls on the
entire nation to help turn things around. All week, AOL has been taking
your questions to find out what you would like to ask Mrs.
Obama about her initiative. We heard from thousands of
people across the country. But if you’re watching now and
you would still like to ask a question, you can. Simply submit your questions
for Mrs. Obama at the White House Facebook page. Mrs. Obama, thank you so much
for inviting us here today. The First Lady:
It’s my pleasure. Welcome
to my White House office. Jennifer Fields:
Thank you. Your family has really been a
role model for physical fitness. Can you tell us about the
initiative and why you decided to create this program for
the families of America. The First Lady:
You know, this issue
has been of personal concern to me because I’ve got
young children and there was a point in our lives when we were
probably like most families; two busy parents, not enough
time to cook at home, eating on the run, and I started
to see some changes in my kids, some pointed out by our
pediatrician who suggested that we might want
to make some changes. And I found that with
a few small changes, eliminating snacks, putting
more water into the diet, adding more fruits
and vegetables, I saw some pretty significant
changes in my children. And I thought if I didn’t
understand how our eating and living patterns were affecting
my children and my family, I’m sure there are millions
of other mothers who were in my position. And I thought that this would be
a good opportunity as first lady to use my platform to try to
bring some awareness to the issue, to bring a
national voice to it, and to give some parents an
opportunity to get better information and learn how they
can help solve the problem. So it’s a personal issue for me. Jennifer Fields:
Well, let’s get started with
the questions submitted by the AOL audience. Our first one comes from Ron
Telles in Portland, Oregon. And it’s probably one you
can relate to from your pre-White House days. He asks, what advice can you
give parents who both work, barely have time to clean their
homes or cook healthy meals, and have limited time for
outdoor activities with our kids? The First Lady:
That is the story of every
other family in America. I mean, we are living in
a time where we just don’t have enough time. People are rushed. They’re over worked,
over scheduled. Not enough resources. And as I said, this was the
position that our family was in just a few years ago. But the thing that I want people
to understand in this campaign is that families can make small
manageable changes in their lives that can have pretty
significant impacts. I mean, we did things like
we went through our cabinet and we removed as much
as the processed food. We removed sugary drinks. I tried to cook a
meal — not everyday, because it’s not realistic. But I tried to cook
one good meal a week. I started there. And then sort of built up. We tried to have more dinners
as a family around the table, ensuring that my kids
were drinking and filling up more on water. And then really focusing
on that physical activity. And you don’t need
to join a gym. And your kids don’t need
to be involved in expensive extracurricular activities. But, you know, making sure
that you limit TV time. That was something we did. In our house, we stopped
TV during the week. And then what we found was that
our kids had to find a way to keep themselves entertained,
which usually required some movement. And then my husband and I,
the President — he wasn’t the President then, but we
did things like go outside, throw a ball, turn on the
radio, doing little dancing. I mean, you can really make
some significant improvements with small changes. And I want people to
think in those terms, and not whole scale changes that
are going to turn people’s lives upside down, because then
you can’t sustain it. But again, we saw some
significant changes with some of these small steps. Jennifer Fields:
That’s great. Now, we heard from many reader
whose are struggling to discuss weight with their children. One question comes from Peggy
in western North Carolina. She asks, “I was a chubby child. I was very aware of this,
and it embarrassed me. My parents never said anything
to me about being overweight. It was only when I was in high
school and got teased about being fat that I decided I
was going to lose weight. How do you empower parents to
help their overweight children? I’m sure they don’t want
to hurt their children. What advice do you have?” The First Lady:
Good question, Peggy. And it’s a sensitive one and
it’s something we all need to be concerned with because
the flip side to obesity can be eating disorders. And we certainly don’t want to
encourage the reverse trend. And I’m particularity
sensitive to this because I have two girls. So one of the things that we try
to do in our home is not really talk about weight. I try to make it a point not
to spend a whole lot of time talking about weight or my
weight for that matter. And what’s important
for parents, families, communities to know
is that the issue, the campaign of “Let’s Move!”
is not about how our kids look. This isn’t vanity or ego. It’s really about how our kids
feel, and it’s about our health. So what I do with my girls is
that I talk about their health. I talk about how important
it is to eat right, what that looks like,
why that’s important. I don’t talk about exercise
for the sake of losing weight. I talk about it because I tell
them that girls should learn how to compete and run and sweat and
do the same things that boys do. So we talk about this in terms
of an overall health picture. And one of the things I also try
to do as a mother is not spend a whole lot of time
seeing them obsess, seeing me obsess about
my weight and my health. My husband and I, we try to make
a good healthy lifestyle just part of what we’re doing. And generally, our girls tend to
want to model what we’re doing. So they see us working
out on a regular basis. They know that
exercise is important. They know that my husband and I
both have a sport that we love. We encourage our children to
pick a sport and invest in it and learn how to work at
something that they’re not good at. So it’s all about achievement
and accomplishment. And we try to talk little
— or not at all — about actual weight. Jennifer Fields:
Now, we know President Obama
has a love for fast food. So how do you encourage your
family to really incorporate some treats but
also stay healthy? The First Lady:
Our message in our
household is balance. I mean, it’s interesting that
the President has a reputation for loving fast food,
because I probably love it more than he does. He tends to be pretty
disciplined about his diet. He doesn’t like sweets. He loves vegetables. That’s just sort of the
natural thing that he loves. But one of the reasons
why he and I, you know, don’t shy away from fast food at
all is because we want our kids to know the balance, that
healthy eating is about finding a healthy balance. You know, it’s not about saying
no forever to ice cream and, you know, french fries and the
things people love because, again, no one
could sustain that. But what we talk about is that
those are special treats. And if you’re eating
well most of the time, then there’s nothing wrong
with having a piece of cake at the birthday party. There’s nothing wrong with
getting your popcorn at the movie if you’re eating balanced
meals the majority of the time. So we just try to
model what we say. I think our kids are looking
to us to be examples. They watch everything we do;
how we move, how we talk, what we eat on our plates. If I’m telling my girls to
finish their vegetables, you can guarantee they’re
looking over at my plate to make sure that I finish mine. So we are our children’s
best, first and oftentimes only role models. So our goal is to make sure that
we’re practicing what we preach. Jennifer Fields:
Our next question comes from
Jane Thomas from Troy, Michigan. She asks, “I’m concerned
now with budget cuts. Many schools are reducing
or eliminating physical education time for students. Is there a way to encourage
school districts to realize that fitness is essential
to students’ well being?” The First Lady:
It’s a good question because
the challenge of finding the time and the money for
these types of what we now consider extracurriculars is
a big challenge across America. But I think the question begs
the answer — and it’s that we have to really make sure
that our school districts, our parents, our communities
understand that exercise is not an option. It’s not an either
or proposition. We’ve seen in so many examples
of schools who are doing great things on the issue of health
and fitness that — in public schools where they
don’t have more money, they don’t have more time
because they’re making this issue a priority, they’re
finding the time. They’re finding a way to
incorporate fitness and gardening and nutrition and
incorporating it into the existing curriculum. And many schools — like one
school that we worked with, Hollin Meadows, which is
in Alexandria, Virginia. They’re doing some great things
with working with parents and communities and principals. And everyone is on board. They understand that they’re
getting better academic results because their kids are
moving around more. They’ve got a community
garden in their school. And they’re using that garden to
teach their kids about fitness and incorporating those foods
into the daily, the food plan. And they’re seeing real,
positive results academically. So we need to know as a
nation that if we want our kids to be successful
academically they need to be successful physically. And that means that you can’t
eliminate sports and activities for the sake of testing. But we do need to do more as a
nation to make sure schools are sharing these models. If one school has figured how to
do this well with no additional resources, how do we make sure
that other schools understand how they can structure
things in their communities? Another goal of the campaign
is we’re trying to get more schools to try to meet the
U.S. Healthier Schools Challenge run by the
Department of Agriculture. We want to see the number
of schools double over the next few years. And this means that schools that
are competing to be a part of this challenge are going to
find ways to increase activity, improve meals in their schools. And they’re going to be looking
to other districts to find ways to do a better job at that. But we have to make this a
priority in this nation. Jennifer Fields:
All right. We’re going to take our
first live question. This comes from Bianca Clevins,
speaking of physical education. The First Lady:
Yes. Jennifer Fields:
Physical education is
often looked at with dread by some students. Is there a way to change this? The First Lady:
You know, I think we should
talk about physical activity as play, which is
actually what it is. I think it’s our job to make
sure that this isn’t a strain because the kids, our kids can
get the recommended 60 minutes of play a day or activity a day
that is encouraged by running outside playing tag. They can get it by riding a bike
and jumping a rope and dancing. There are, you know, many ways
that schools across this country are finding ways to make
physical education fun. I mean, in my day, folks looked
forward to recess and gym. That was the highlight of the
day because you were playing, you were playing kick ball. So I think our goal is to make
sure that we’re not treating this like a task
or like a penalty. We just want our
kids to move more. And moving doesn’t mean,
always necessarily mean a competitive sport. It can be a game of
duck, duck, goose. It can be freeze tag. I mean, all of these games and
activities wind up giving our kids, if they’re really engaged
and they’re having fun, they’ll find themselves getting
fit and being healthy without even knowing it. And that’s always
the trick with kids, getting them to do things that
are good for them without them realizing it. Jennifer Fields:
We have another question
from Jennifer Miller, a registered dietitian
in Smithsburg, Maryland. She asks a question about
where we should focus our education efforts. “I conduct educational
programs for kids, teaching them about
healthy eating. And many of them do know
what they should be eating. But when I sit with them at
lunch and I see their parents have packed junk food, I feel
like we need to much more focus on educating the parents and
adults nutrition on how to feed their children. What are your thoughts on this?” The First Lady:
It’s a good question. I mean, first of all, we’re
dealing with an epidemic. So we’ve got to tackle it from
many different perspectives, which is one of the reasons
why the “Let’s Move!” campaign has four pillars. One of them, however, is
ensuring that parents are getting more information so that
they can make better choices for their children, things like
improving front of package labeling so that parents
don’t have to squint and figure out big unusual words
to determine whether something is healthy or not. There’s more that we can do
to make it easier for parents to pick foods that make
sense and that also taste good for their kids. So I think we have to
do a lot of work there. But I think we can do a lot
of educating kids directly. And again, there’s so many
schools who are finding ways to incorporate nutrition education
into their curriculums. As this questioner
indicated, in many schools, teachers are sitting down at the
tables having lunch with kids because you’ll find that
the best time to educate is in the moment. And if you’re sitting down at
the lunchroom table and you’re talking about whose brought what
for lunch and what a balanced lunch looks like and you’re
giving a little encouragement to eat the vegetable that the
put into the lunch or to ask children, encourage children to
ask their parents to incorporate vegetables, carrots
if they have it. You know, a lot of times it’s
right at mealtimes where teachers and teacher’s assistants
can have that impact. They can also be role
models themselves. If the teacher’s packed a
healthy lunch and the kids are seeing the teacher is
eating a healthy lunch, the teacher has an opportunity
to talk about why did they pack a sandwich with certain
kinds of meat, you know, why is their dessert a
piece of fruit as opposed to a piece of candy. I mean, there are so many
important opportunities to engage kids and to educate them. Education also depends on the
age because I have a daughter who’s in middle
school, for example, and she’s at the age where she’s
really curious about cooking. We can educate middle schoolers
and high schoolers by really getting them focused on how can
they actually fix healthy meals, because they’re
curious about cooking. They’re looking
for independence. So I know my kids’ ears pop up
when they’re going to be engaged in making the healthy snack. They’ll be more
inclined to eat it. So, you know, we have to
look at different models. You can’t treat
all kids the same. Different kids,
different community, different age groups require a
different approach to education. But it is true,
education is the key. Because I think we’re living in
a time when a lot of people in communities don’t know what
healthy should look like. And some people think a sugary
drink that has the word fruit on it is actually good for you. And it may be, it may not be. It depends on what is
actually in the drink. So you know, information is key
because people — I’m sure that most parents think that they’re
making the right decisions for their children only to find out
that what they’ve been buying for lunch is full of
added sugars and salts. And we’ve got to make it
easier for families to do the right thing. Jennifer Fields:
Our next question is about
accessibility of healthy foods. It comes from Scarlet Rose
Smith in Killeen, Texas. She asks, “I spend a
lot of time in Davis, California when my
husband is deployed. In Davis, fresh and organic
produce is much cheaper and easier to get. When I come home to Killeen, the
only places to shop do not carry fresh organic fruit and veggies
and a junk food is cheaper. Are there plans to implement new
laws or tax breaks for companies so we could get some nice
fresh organic cheap food here in Killeen? The First Lady:
Well, this is the
issue of food deserts, and trying to eliminate
these food deserts. Food deserts are areas around
the country where folks don’t have access to a single
supermarket where they can buy fresh produce. And unfortunately 23
million Americans, 6.5 million children are
currently living in food deserts in both urban
and rural communities. And one of the key pillars
of the “Let’s Move!” campaign is to eliminate these
food deserts completely. We want to do this
in seven years. Because again, we cannot look
parents in the eye and tell them to do better, we can’t give them
the information but then — only to find that they don’t live
in an area where they can live out those expectations. If you have to get in a cab or
ride a bus or walk for miles to get a head of lettuce to
buy a salad, you know, you’re just setting
families up for failure. So eliminating these food
deserts is going to be key to the obesity campaign. It’s also a critical issue
around hunger as well. But again, there are
models around the country. Pennsylvania is an
excellent example. We visited Philadelphia
a few months ago. Secretary Vilsack and
the treasury secretary, Tim Geithner, and I spent time
in one of those communities that was a food desert. It was a neighborhood that
hasn’t had a grocery store in their community in
more than ten years. And the thing I asked people
to think about is imagine that you’re a child who is ten
years old today living in that community. That means that your parents,
with every good intention, would have had to struggle
to get you a healthy meal, to put fruits and
vegetables in your lunch. That child is ten years old. By ten years old, kids’
eating habits are set. A lot of their health
statistics are set. And this is what’s been going
on all around the country. But Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,
this state came together using incentives, using a food
financing initiative that pulled together public funds and
matched them with private sector funds to try to encourage
retailers and chains to locate in underserved communities. And through this
fund in Pennsylvania, they’ve seen 80 or more new
supermarkets opening up in underserved communities. And the beauty is the store that
we visited in Philadelphia, Fresh Grocer, it was the
shining star in a community that is still developing. They’re hiring workers
who live in the community. The store is beautiful, the
produce sections match any high priced grocery store you’ll
see anywhere in the country. And that grocery store
is turning a profit. And it is the sort of, again,
shining star of that community. So our view is that if we
can do this in Philadelphia, a state that has rural
and urban communities, we can find ways to
replicate this model. And we’re looking to do that
on the federal level with the healthy food
financing initiative, $400 million that’s going to be
used to attract private sector dollars to try to replicate
this Pennsylvania model throughout the nation. But eliminating food deserts is
going to be key to solving this epidemic in our
children’s lifetime. Jennifer Fields:
Now we’re going to
take a live question. This one comes from Becky Clark. Aside from pediatricians, who
else is a good resource for learning about good
quality nutrition? The First Lady:
Hey, Becky. You know, everyone is a source. I think we have to — I think
pediatricians are a good source because, number one, our
doctors are well respected members of the community. And because most families are
taking their children to well child visits, pediatricians can
often be the first point of entry to identify whether
obesity is becoming an issue by regularly measuring
body mass index. As I said earlier, our
pediatrician was critical in just raising the flag in
my family that we were even having a problem. Because when you love your kids
and you’re used to seeing your kid, you think everything
they do is wonderful. You think they look cute. You think everything is perfect. And you’re right. But sometimes it takes a
professional to step in and show you that things
may be a little bit off. And we’re trying to encourage
pediatricians and doctors not just to measure BMI but to work
on writing prescriptions and help families work through easy,
doable steps to improve health. So our doctors are key. But teachers and educators
are another important point of contact. Our schools will play
a significant role, which is one of the reasons
why we want to see the Child Nutrition Reauthorization
Act passed in this session. This is the key piece of
legislation that’s going to improve the quality
of food in our school, ensure that school vending
machines have healthy snacks. It can go a long way to
affecting the way we see food and health in schools. And we need our schools engaged. We need to make sure that
Congress swiftly passes what is bipartisan legislation, because
this is going to be an important tool for us in
the years to come. But we should view,
in our nation, each and every one of
us, business leaders, government officials, athletes,
all of us who our children look up to can be a part of the
process of educating our children about nutrition. So we all have a
role to play in this. Jennifer Fields:
All right. We’re at our last question. The First Lady:
Oh, time flies. Jennifer Fields:
Time does fly. Now, “Let’s Move!” has a really
ambitious goal of reversing childhood obesity
within a generation. Where do you think
we’ll be in five years? What will our school
lunches look like? What will fitness
programs look like? And how will local
communities be involved? The First Lady:
Well, five years is
still a short time for what is an ambitious goal. I mean, we set this as a
generational goal because we didn’t get here in five
years or ten years or twenty. It took several generations
for us to get here, and we’re really not
going to see the change for another generation. We’re really targeting
children born today. But the “Let’s Move!” campaign
is working for some shorter and mid-term goals to ensure us that
we’re moving steadily towards that, that broader
generational goal. In five years, I hope to
see us making progress in our school lunches. I hope that we have a viable and
well funded school nutrition act, child nutrition act, and
that we’re seeing the quality go up in our schools. I hope that we’re seeing more
education around nutrition going on in our schools. We want to see more schools
participating in community gardens and being the place
where kids are going to get their first taste of fresh fruit
and vegetables and understand how that grows. We want to see in five years
the rate of physical activity go up in kids. We want to see more kids
walking and biking to school. We want to see that
number grow by 50%. We want to see that we’re making
some real meaningful steps toward eliminating food deserts,
that we’re seeing more models like Pennsylvania cropping
up all over the country, trying to match government
dollars and bring in more resources. We want to see every major
sports league in this country finding a way to invest
in the health of our kids. I want to see every athlete,
every Olympian in a school. We want to see chefs connected
with our schools helping our very valuable lunchroom
teachers figure out how do we make meals healthy
and affordable and tasty. And we want to see better
information out there. We hope to have some good front
of package labeling agreements worked out with a FDA. We want our retailers to be
doing a lot more to improve the quality of their food. We’ve gotten some significant
commitments from retailers that have committed to reducing
the amounts of sugar, fat, and salt in our foods. So hopefully we’ll have
a better array of foods. I hope that we’re seeing more
marketing of healthy foods to our kids so that we start seeing
some of our partners like Disney and others taking a step in
ensuring that we’re having conversations with our kids in
the venues that they love best, those Disney shows. And we’re talking
about nutrition. So while these goals
are generational, there are things that we can see
happen in five years that should give us a sense that
we’re moving forward. But this is going
to take some time. And we have to be patient
because we’re talking about changing habits that have
been formed over generations. It’s not going to be easy,
but it is possible because the beauty with kids is that
their habits and approaches are changed faster than adults. My kids adjusted to drinking
more water much more quickly than I ever would have imagined. Their taste buds change. They’re more receptive
to vegetables. The taste of really highly
sugary drinks is a little off putting to them once
they’ve been, you know, drinking more natural
sweetened juices. So kids are malleable. And they’re also open to learn. We’re the ones that
stand in the way. It’s our changes. It’s us, the grown ups in this
game that are going to have to step it up and make some changes
on our own to get our kids where we want them to be. Jennifer Fields:
All right. Thank you, Mrs Obama, for inviting us here today. The First Lady:
Thank you for coming, Jennifer. Jennifer Fields:
Sure. Check out the newly
re-launched “Let’s Move!” website at let’ And also, go to to
find out ways that you can help in our community. The First Lady:
Thank you. Jennifer Fields:
Thank you.