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While the country is under the impression that President Barack Obama is the fast-food grabber in the White House, the secret is now out. It's the First Lady who admits to "loving it more than he does."
In a live chat in her White House office, Michelle Obama talked about what it takes to end childhood obesity and introduced her recently launched campaign to raise a healthier generation of kids, Let's Move.
"I wanted to bring a national voice to it," she says, regarding the obesity epidemic. "It's a personal issue to me."
Before moving to the White House, the Obamas were just like any other family with two working parents and not enough time to fit it all in. One day, her paediatrician suggested some dietary and fitness changes to help improve the health of her daughters, Malia and Sasha.
"We went through the cabinets and removed sugary and high fat foods," she explains. "I started cooking one good meal a week" and increased the frequency from there. She also made sure they started eating meals together as a family. And her kids began to fill up on water rather than sugary drinks.
"We are our children's best, first and often only role models," she says. "Kids are looking to us to be examples. They watch everything we do. If I tell them to finish their vegetables, you can guarantee that they're looking over at my plate watching if I'm finishing mine."
But that doesn't mean she's putting an end to junk food any time. When asked about the President's penchant for unhealthy fast food, Mrs. Obama was quick to put that myth to rest. "I love it more than he does," she says. But, the Let's Move campaign is "not about saying no to ice cream and french fries." Having a piece of cake at a birthday party is fine, she says, as long as the majority of a day's intake is healthy.
To encourage physical activity, the first mum also had the girls stop watching TV during the week, which forced them to find a way to keep themselves entertained, says the First Lady, "which usually involved some movement." Mrs. Obama tells parents they don't need a gym membership or expensive after-school activities. Simply throwing a ball around or putting on the radio and dancing will make a difference, she says.
One AOL audience member, a self-identified former chubby kid, asked how Mrs. Obama could empower parents of overweight children. "I'm particularly sensitive to this because I have two girls," she says, explaining that she makes it a point at home not to talk about weight, the girls or hers. "It's not vanity or ego, but rather about health and how the kids feel."
She encourages parents to talk about exercise as something healthy and not as a way to lose weight. She makes sure they don't see her obsessing about her weight but that they do see each of their parents participating in a sport they love.
Marian Robinson, Michelle's mother and caretaker of the Obama girls, once said that organic food is "not my thing" and that "If you're going to have fried chicken, have fried chicken." So how does Michele manage that duality in her household?
"The message in our household is balance," she says. "We don't shy away from fast foods because we want to send the message about balance." Ice cream is OK in moderation, she explains, so long as the majority of your diet is composed of healthy meals.
Mrs. Obama says we need to get to the root of the problem, and that the key is information, educating parents so they can make better choices for their children. One way is to fix front labeling on food and drinks so parents can make better choices.
"Many people think a sugary drink that has the word fruit on it is actually good for them," she says. "Information is key. We need to make it easier for families to do the right thing.
"While these goals are generational, there are things we can see happen in five years that should give us a sense that we're moving forward."
But, true to her megawatt smile, Mrs. Obama ended on an up note: "Luckily, kids are malleable and open to learning. It's the grown-ups that are going to have to step it up, make our own changes to help make this a reality."
Michelle Obama was talking to our US sister site AOL Health's senior editor Jennifer Fields.
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