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Health & Parenting

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Michelle Obama Takes on Childhood Obesity

America's First Mom Talks With WebMD About How Families -- Including Hers -- Can Eat Healthfully and Be Active
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

If you ever take a White House tour and hear the sounds of joyful barking, girlish giggles, and a thumping dance-pop beat wafting down from the family quarters, you'll know that you've just happened on a "Bo Dance Party." That's just one of the ways First Lady Michelle Obama (and sometimes her husband, the President) sneaks extra exercise into her daughters' busy days. "We turn up the radio and throw the ball, and run up and down the hall with Bo," says Mrs. Obama, referring to the family's famous Portuguese water dog. "When you're chasing a dog or the dog is chasing you, you can really work up a sweat."

Now, the First Lady is challenging all of America to turn around a troubling trend in children's health by putting an end to the epidemic of childhood obesity.

Tell us about your new initiative to help address childhood obesity. Many strategies have been tried to tackle this difficult issue -- what makes this one unique and what will make this one successful?

"Let's Move" -- and I love that name -- is a public-private partnership that, for the first time, sets national goals to end childhood obesity in a generation.

Childhood obesity in America has tripled over the past 30 years, and today, one in three American children is either overweight or obese. This generation is on track to be the first generation in America that's less healthy than their parents. That's outrageous. We don't have time to wait to do something about this.

"Let's Move" has four pillars:

  • Offering parents the tools and information they need to make better decisions about their children's nutrition. This will include everything from improving front-of-package food labeling to a partnership with the American Academy of Pediatrics to encourage BMI tracking at well-child visits to public education partnerships with Disney and NBC.
  • Getting healthier foods in the schools. President Obama has proposed a $10 billion increase in funding when the Child Nutrition Act is reauthorized this year; that's $1 billion a year over 10 years to improve the nutritional quality of schools' meals and get more kids signed up for the program.
  • Improving the accessibility and affordability of healthy foods. We know that 23.5 million Americans live in "food deserts," that don't have access to supermarkets. We want to eliminate those. Cities like Philadelphia have done it, so we know it can be done." "Let's Move" includes a $400 million initiative focused on getting farmers' markets and grocery stores to relocate to "food deserts."
  • Physical activity -- increasing opportunities for kids to play and move. The President's Physical Fitness Challenge is a key component of this effort, but it has to be modernized. It now stresses the importance of athleticism, but not every child is athletic. We just need them to move. We'll use sports leagues and athletics to promote this, partnering with almost every sports league from the NFL and the NBA to the WNBA and women's soccer.

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