"Let's Move!" to End Childhood Obesity

America’s first lady, Michelle Obama, has an ambitious goal—to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation. Her initiative, “Let’s Move!,” builds on promising approaches to provide states, schools, families and communities proven tools to help kids be more active, eat better and get healthy.

  Download the Article in PDF

  Capitol Ideas: September / October 2010


10 Questions with First Lady Michelle Obama

1. Why was reducing childhood obesity in the U.S. and improving childhood nutrition and health an issue you needed to focus on?
“Over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in America have tripled, and today, nearly one in three children in America are overweight or obese. One-third of all children born in 2000 or later will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lives; many others will face chronic  obesity-related health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and asthma. And a study put the health care costs of obesity-related diseases at $147 billion per year. The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake. This isn’t the kind of problem that can be solved overnight, but with everyone working together, it can be solved.”

2. What personal experiences in your family helped to shape your desire to create the Let’s Move! campaign?
“It wasn’t that long ago that I was a working mom, struggling to balance meetings and deadlines  with soccer and ballet. And there were some nights when everyone was tired and hungry, and we just went to the drive-thru because it was quick and cheap, or went with one of the less healthy microwave options, because it was easy. And one day, my pediatrician pulled me aside and told  me, ‘You might want to think about doing things a little bit differently.’ That was a moment of truth for me. So, we made some small but significant changes at home—adding more fruits and  vegetables to our meals, for instance, drinking more water, turning off the TV and going for walks  after dinner. I saw the difference in my family, not only physically but in how we felt overall.”

3. One of the four key components of Let’s Move! is improving the quality of the food in the nation’s schools. Why is this so important?
“Thirty-one million American children participate in federal school meal programs—and many of these kids consume as many as half their daily calories at school. What we don’t want is a situation where parents are taking all the right steps at home—and then their kids undo all that work when they get to the school cafeteria. … Let’s help parents help their kids.”

4. How can states assist in this goal?
“Let’s Move! … will take into account how life is really lived in communities across the country— encouraging, supporting and pursuing solutions that are tailored to children and families facing a  wide range of challenges and life circumstances. We need to give parents the tools, support and information they need to make healthier choices for their families. We need to get more nutritious meals into our schools. We need to ensure that kids get 60 minutes of active play a day. And we need to improve access to affordable, quality, nutritious food. … In order to fully address the childhood obesity challenge, we need the support of governors, mayors and other state and local elected officials, as well as other community leaders, to address each of these areas.”

5. Many states, in trying to meet academic goals, have cut physical education classes. What would you like to see happen with physical education in the nation’s schools?
“The U.S. Department of Education will be working with Congress on the creation of a Safe and Healthy Schools fund as part of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary School Education Act this year. This fund will support schools with comprehensive strategies to improve their school environment, including efforts to get children physically active in and outside of school,  and improve the quality and availability of physical education.”

6. How can state officials work collaboratively to help their schools reach the goals of healthier school meals?
“Officials can promote the expansion or improvement of nutrition education in schools, and school gardens and community gardens are a great way to get kids excited about food and nutrition. Additionally, we also need to encourage participation in federal child nutrition programs to  address the needs of low-income children. And, many areas can support both schools and  farmers by promoting the farm-to-school programs, which will get more fresh produce on the menus.”

7. How can Let’s Move! work with state campaigns?
“Let’s Move! was designed to work in coordination with all of the efforts going on around the country to address this challenge because there is no one-size-fits-all solution to childhood  obesity. In Pennsylvania, for example, folks started a Fresh Food Financing Initiative to bring grocery stores to underserved areas. … In North Carolina, they’ve launched a full-scale effort to   help kids eat healthier and to exercise more. … Arkansas started on the issue of childhood obesity way back in 2003. They screened students’ BMIs, they got healthier food into their schools and required regular physical education classes. As a result, that state was able to halt the rise of  childhood obesity completely. Let’s Move! is designed to complement and promote these efforts.”

8. How does the Let’s Move! campaign address the challenges of getting kids to eat healthfully all the time, not just at school?
“Parents play an extremely significant role in educating kids on healthy eating and by setting good  eating habits early on—habits that will carry into the future. We encourage parents to make small changes at home around the dinner table and during snack time. Small actions like adding more fruits and vegetables to meals can make a big impact for the health of the whole family. One of the things we do with our girls is that we limit television time and computer use during the week so that the girls are spending time engaged in active play.”

9. How does the campaign reach out to parents?
“Let’s Move! will offer parents the tools, support and information they need to make healthier choices for their families. For example, the Food and Drug Administration is working with retailers and manufacturers to adopt new nutritionally sound and consumer friendly front-of-package labeling.”

10. In what ways do you and President Obama strive to set an example of healthy eating for your daughters?
“I think the biggest thing we do is simply to make fruits and vegetables a regular food item for meals and snacks. We also try to limit the amount of sweets in our diets. One of the things I tell my girls is that dessert is not a right. But, more than anything else, we try to teach our girls about balance. You don’t have to worry about having pizza and cake when you go to a birthday party. It’s just not a good idea to eat that way for every meal.”