Opinion: Michelle Obama Hula-Hooping our way to health
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First, the buff first arms. Then the First Lady’s White House playground. Then the First Lady’s White House victory garden. Then the First Lady’s patronage of farmer’s markets for things that grow in the filthy ground or hang on trees where birds perch and do things.
It’s a given that too many Americans are obese. They don’t exercise enough. The good news is their flabby thighs are hidden by their drooping stomachs.
Now, today First Lady Michelle Obama had a Healthy Kids Fair on the sunny White House South Lawn. Will this healthy stuff ever stop with these people?
Yes, of course, it’s a political show. Playing with kids at a scheduled time that allows TV studio editors to process the video in time for the afternoon/evening newscasts is part of American public life now, regardless of party. (Think the Bushes’ adorable T-ball games at the White House.)
But M.O.'s enthusiasm is almost contagious, making some American adults at least contemplate getting up out of their La-Z-Boys to move their enlarged bodies slightly. And not just toward the fridge.
Yes, it might be a shock to the old ticker to work a little. So try walking early in the morning before your brain figures out what’s going on.
Never mind sitting on your enlarged keister reading books, this first lady seems determined to drive Americans, including her burger-loving, cigarette-smoking husband, to at least feel guilty about all those fries and other gunk they swallow into their bodies.
As she often does in her public remarks (think Copenhagen), the president’s wife falls back on her own life for story material. We learn today that in her childhood they got pizza once each year or semester, one or the other -- and then only if the children had received good grades.
We also learn Mrs. Obama loves french fries. Very much. Extremely much. But that she knows she can’t eat them every day. She doesn’t explain why not. Apparently, she thinks it’s bad somehow.
Mrs. Obama also says that her two daughters have no TV time on school days, which forces them to find activities other than sitting. Actually moving around, the way neighborhood youngsters did back in the neolithic pre-TV times of the 1940s and before.
And Sasha and Malia Obama only get a few hours of TV on the weekend -- presumably not Fox News either because, according to other White House denizens, watching that channel can cause bad things to happen to the human brain.
Today’s Kids Fair is actually a rather charming event. (See news video below.) So put your Whopper down for a sec and scan what the First Mother had to say.
-- Andrew Malcolm
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MRS. OBAMA: Well, hello!
MRS. OBAMA: It’s good to see everybody. Perfect weather, right?
MRS. OBAMA: Thank you so much. I am thrilled to have you all here today at the White House. And I....
...also want to thank a few people before we start, not just the young people here who also -- some of you brought your parents, so let’s see the parents. Give the parents a round of applause. (Applause.)
But in addition to all of you, we’ve got a few pretty special guests. We’ve got some talented chefs and nutritionists here to teach us how to make healthy breakfasts, lunches and snacks.
So I want to first want to introduce Koren Grieveson, who I just got to meet. Koren, where are you? There she is, over there. (Applause.) She’s from my hometown, Chicago. (Applause.) Yay for Chicago.
And then we have Todd Gray. Todd, where are you? Raise your hand. Todd is from my new hometown right here in Washington, D.C. (Applause.)
And then we’ve got Sam Kass who a lot of you probably met -- (applause) -- but Sam is in charge of the White House Garden, so he oversees all of that along with all of our wonderful White House chefs. Everybody from the White House team, raise your hands, all of our White House crew. (Applause.)
And we also have Vahista Ussery and the rest of the staff from the School Nutrition Association who are on the frontlines every day in our schools. (Applause.) So Vahista, where are you and all of the nutrition experts? (Applause.) And Ellie Krieger, one of the nutritionists from the Food Network, she’s way in the back with her family. Thank you, Elie. (Applause.)
And I want to thank all the folks from the YMCA and Playworks. They helped us set up all the fun things that we’re going to have to do after we get through talking. So let’s give them a round of applause. (Applause.)
(Inaudible) -- U.S. Department of Agriculture for joining us today and for all of his hard work and leadership on making our food and our schools healthier. He’s been doing a phenomenal job. And it seems like just yesterday that Secretary Vilsack and I were out here to begin digging for the garden. And it seems like just yesterday.
And one of our goals was to focus on the importance of educating our kids about healthy eating. So it wasn’t just about planting a garden. It was also to begin to talk about nutrition and to highlight the little ways that each of us can add more healthy fruits and vegetables to our diet, something that I think about all the time as a mother.
We felt that this was especially important right now when so many children in this nation are facing health problems that are entirely preventable. So we’ve got our kids who are struggling with things that we have the power to control.
Right now one in three children in this country are overweight or obese. And as I’ve said many times before, if we think we’re dealing with a serious health problem now, you know, then we project out to five, 10, 20 years from now when we see these rates increase and all the illnesses that result from obesity, whether it’s high blood pressure, or heart disease, cancer.
And believe it or not, which is a very surprising thing, medical experts are now warning that for the first time in the history of this nation, we’re headed for the next generation being on track to have a shorter life span than us. That’s the way we’re going right now.
And none of us wants that. None of us wants that for our children and for our children’s futures. Even if we don’t care about ourselves, we don’t want that for our kids. We want our children to eat right, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because quite frankly healthy good food tastes good and we want them to experience that.
We don’t just want our kids to exercise because we tell them to. We want them to exercise because it’s fun and they enjoy it. And we want them to learn now how to lead good, healthy lifestyles so that they’re not struggling to figure out how to do that when they’re older.
But as a parent, and I know all of you here today, we know that sometimes doing all that is easier said than done, because we all care but it is becoming so increasingly difficult to provide all that for our kids. And you all know that better than anyone here, as parents. We’re all pulled in a million different directions, working hard, working long hours, trying to do everything, be perfect parents. We love you guys so much we just want everything for you.
But it’s hard to do everything. And when you come home from a long day at work, and the refrigerator is empty, and you know you don’t feel like cooking -- (laughter) -- the easiest and sometimes the cheapest thing to do is to get in a fast food drive-thru. We’ve all done it because we are overwhelmed and we don’t know what the options are.
And today life is so different from when I was growing up, kids. And I know your parents tell you this. I tell my kids this. When I was growing up, fast food was a treat. You know, we couldn’t afford to get fast food every week, because my parents couldn’t afford it, so it was something you did on a special occasion.
We had pizza about once every school year -- once every semester when we got good grades. That’s when we got pizza. It was pizza day. That’s what we got for getting good grades, pizza.
And we didn’t have dessert every single night. My mother would tell us, “Dessert is not a right. It’s a treat.” So we had it on special occasions.
We didn’t have -- and I have to tell my kids this -- you don’t get dessert every night of the week. Otherwise it’s not a treat; it’s just something that you do.
And my mother was also very clear in our household that you ate what she fixed. Mmm, yes. (Laughter.) You ate what she fixed, and if you didn’t eat that, then you didn’t eat.
And in my household -- is if you say you’re not hungry, then you have to eat your vegetables, and then you get up and leave, and you don’t ask for anything else, and go to bed, right?
So these are the kind of rules that I grew up with, that all of your moms and your dads grew up with, and these are the kind of rules and boundaries and guidelines that we want to set for all of you.
But in my household, there were no absolutes, right? I mean, we love good food, too. That’s why I always say there’s nothing that the First Family loves more than a good burger, right? (Laughter.) And look, my favorite food in the whole wide world are French fries. I love them. Dearly. (Laughter.) Deeply. (Laughter.)
I have a good relationship with French fries and I would eat them every single day if I could. I really would. But I know that if I’m eating the right things -- and I tell my girls this -- if you’re getting the right foods for most of the time, then when it’s time to have cake and french fries on those special occasions, then you balance it out.
So it’s not about any absolute no’s. It’s just about striking a balance. And that’s what I know your moms are trying to teach you all. That’s what I’m trying to teach my girls.
But these days, even when parents do have the time and the resources to buy healthy foods and make a simple meal at home, the reality is that kids are spending a third of their time at school, right? So we don’t have control over what you eat when you’re at school.
So even when we’re -- when we’re working hard to give our kids healthy food at home, if they go to school and eat a lunch that’s loaded with calories and fat, then all the efforts that we try to instill at home, it gets knocked off a little bit.
And many kids don’t have any access to physical education in the schools -- and that’s also something that’s also changed. When I grew up -- and I went to public schools in my neighborhood -- I don’t care what you did; you had recess and you had gym on a very regular basis. So even though we’re encouraging our kids to exercise, if they can’t go to school and that -- get the same kind of exercise opportunities, then it makes our jobs as parents harder.
And one of the things that I want to do is to begin focusing on ways that this administration can help parents, kids and families in tackling all these challenges. We want to make it a little easier on you all -- not just tell you what to do and what you should look like, but help you with some resources so that it doesn’t feel so impossible.
And that’s one of the reasons why we’re here today, because we know that schools can play an important role in the work that we hope to achieve. And that’s why the Department of Agriculture has started this wonderful challenge called Healthier U.S. School Challenge.
And the goal of this challenge is to find schools who are going to commit to making fresh healthy food available -- we want them to pledge that, that’s part of the challenge -- but in addition to making healthy foods available, getting rid of the junk food in the school, making that pledge, get rid of it, but also to be sure that they’re setting aside time for physical activity during the day in the curriculum and teaching kids about healthy food choices during the day.
And I am pleased to announce that there are about 635 schools from across the country who have met the challenge, and we have some of those schools with us today.
But my goal is to challenge more schools and more communities to take part in this, particularly middle and high school students, because right now....
... those 635 students are at the elementary school level, and we need to take this challenge up to kids in middle schools and high schools.
So I’m looking forward to visiting some of the schools that have joined the Healthy School Challenge. That’s a pledge that I have. If your school commits to this challenge, there’s a possibility that I’ll come and check it out. But I’m not coming if you’re not a part of the challenge, right? So we want to get more schools to follow this lead.
And of course changing old habits is never easy. That’s why it’s going to take a broader team effort with everyone pitching in, and it’s going to take government doing its part.
And that’s why this administration is going to be working hard to reauthorize our federal Child Nutrition program, because with 30 million kids relying on a school breakfast or a lunch as one of their primary meals of the day, we need to make sure that these meals are nutritious and well balanced, and that more kids can have access so that they don’t have to go hungry in school.
And the chefs and nutritionists here today are going to show us how we can use the food that the USDA provides to schools as a way to prepare really tasty, healthy foods. That’s why they’re here today, because they’re going to take that food that you get in the schools and do some special stuff to show that with the food that we have, we can probably do even better than we’re doing.
We’ll also need all you kids to be a part of that. Now, I know you’re dozing off. I see it. (Laughter.) It’s hot, I want to play. (Laughter.) But we’re going to need you, too. And what are we going to need you to do?
CHILD: Stay healthy.
MRS. OBAMA: Yes, sir. What?
CHILD: Stay healthy.
MRS. OBAMA: Stay healthy. And how do you stay healthy?
CHILD: Eating the right things.
MRS. OBAMA: Eating the right things. We’re going to need you to help your parents with these choices. So when vegetables on your plate -- we don’t want to hear, “I don’t want to eat it. I don’t like it.” (Laughter.) “It tastes bad. I don’t want it.” We don’t want to hear the whining. We want you to eat it. Just eat it, right? (Laughter.)
And what else do we need you to do? If you’re going to be strong and healthy, what do we need you to do?
CHILD: Be good, be healthy, and be nice.
MRS. OBAMA: Be good, be healthy, and be nice. (Laughter.) Yes. And exercise. You’ve got to play. So in order to play, you’ve got to turn off what?
MRS. OBAMA: Turn off the TV. In our household, no TV during school days. And only a couple hours during the weekend, I’m sorry. But because the TV is off, my girls get up and they move. Even if they’re pushing each other down, they’re running. (Laughter.)
So we’re going to need you to help your parents. Turn off the TV on your own. Get up and throw a ball. Run around the house. Don’t break anything, but move. Try to go outside if you can.
That’s why we’re here at the White House, because we’re reaching out to schools, to families, to kids. And we’re inviting you guys to be a part of our team and think about all of us doing our part.
And one of the children who came here and helped us with the garden -- this was a very powerful moment in this whole garden experience, was after we planted and we harvested and we ate together, the kids talked about this experience.
Some of the kids from Bancroft School -- yay -- (applause) -- they’re a little older than you, but they were fifth-graders. And one of them -- a few of them wrote that -- she said she’s “a pretty regular fifth-grader who loves sweets.” And she said because of her time in the garden, she said "…has made me think about the choices I have with what I put in my mouth.” So she learned about the power of what choices she makes -- not what her mom tells her what to do, not what her teachers, but the choices that she makes.
And another child wrote -- he said -- it was inspired -- “It has inspired us to eat better and work harder.”
And then there was the student who wrote with great excitement about what he learned about tomatoes. I remember this because he read this report to me. He said, not just that they’re both a fruit and a vegetable but that "…they fight diseases like cancer and heart problems, and that they have a lot of vitamins in them, too.” And armed with that knowledge, he declared, “So the tomato is a fruit and it is now my best friend.” (Laughter.)
That’s what we want you all to think, that vegetables and fruits are not the enemy; it is the power to a good future. And in the end, that’s what we’re all trying to do here. That’s why we’ve invited you to the South Lawn. That’s why all these cameras are here. That’s why Secretary Vilsack is here, because we are now focused on your future and what are you going to feel like and be. And part of that has to do with your health. And it starts with how you eat and how you exercise.
So we hope you guys are all game to join the fight. We hope that there are schools all across this country that will join the challenge. We hope that there are more parents that are going to be focused in thinking about ways that we can help you all.
But I now want to turn it over to Secretary Vilsack who has been a phenomenal partner in this effort. We couldn’t do this without the work of the Department of Agriculture, and he has been steadfast in this fight to ensure that children have healthier options in the schools. So he has been a dear friend, and I want you all to give him a big round of applause and welcome him to the podium. Thank you so much. (Applause.) ###