First Lady Wants to Be Remembered for Fighting Childhood Obesity

Filed under: In The News

Michelle Obama hula hoops with children during the Healthy Kids Fair on the South Lawn of the White House, Oct. 21, 2009. Credit: Samantha Appleton, The White House

Michelle Obama wants you to know she understands the lure of the pizza.

"It wasn't that long ago that I was juggling a full-time job with the round-the-clock role of being a mom," she tells reporters. "And there were plenty of times when after a long day at work, when the fridge was empty and the kids were hungry, that I just ordered that pizza."

Or maybe she took the kids out for burgers. "It was cheap and quick," she says.

Addressing reporters at a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors last week, the first lady now says choosing expediency over nutrition is one reason why 32 percent of America's children and adolescents are overweight.

She wants to change that. In fact, USA Today reports, she wants the fight against childhood obesity to be her legacy as first lady.

Obama tells the press that fight will include partnerships between the administration and local governments to provide more nutritious food in schools, create opportunities for kids to be more physically active and give communities greater access to affordable, healthy food.

She has already used the planting of vegetables in the White House garden to call attention to the problem.

And the problem is huge. "The statistics never fail to take my breath away," Obama tells USA Today.

Weight issues put children at risk for high cholesterol, diabetes and other ailments, while lowering their self esteem.

"If you can get kids into healthier eating habits when they are younger, their weight may self-correct," Donna Ryan, president of the Obesity Society, a group of weight-management researchers and professionals, tells USA Today.

Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, tells USA Today having the first lady address the problem could really help.

"The first lady not only brings the weight of the White House, but she also understands this issue as a parent," Wootan tells the paper.

Obama tells USA Today she took daughters Sasha and Malia on a few too many trips through the drive-through.

"It got to the point where our pediatrician had to tap me on the shoulder and say, 'You know, you might want to consider making some changes in your family's diet,' " she adds.

Parents "desperately want to do what's right," the first lady tells USA Today. But numerous forces are allied against them. Local markets that sell fresh produce may be hard to find. Physical education and recreation programs at schools may have been cut.

"This isn't the kind of problem that can be solved in one year, or even one administration," Obama tells USA Today. "But make no mistake about it. This problem can be solved.

"We don't need to wait for some new invention or discovery to make this happen. This doesn't require fancy tools or technologies. We have everything we need right now. We have the information. We have the ideas. And we have the desire to start solving America's childhood obesity problem. The only question is whether we have the will."

Related: Fighting Childhood Obesity

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.