First Lady Holds Live Chat on Childhood Obesity

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First lady Michelle Obama hosts a fall harvest of the White House vegetable garden with help of students from Washington's Bancroft and Kimball Elementary schools.
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Stepping up her "Let's Move" initiative against childhood obesity, First Lady Michelle Obama today held her first-ever live video chat to answer questions and concerns about the epidemic.

The campaign, which Obama launched in February, is designed to raise awareness about the issue and spotlight the fact that nearly one in three children in the United States is either overweight or obese.

In the chat, Obama stressed the importance of practicing better eating habits and doing more exercise. And she argued that better practices start with parents.

"We are our children's best, first and often times only role models," Obama said.

While she acknowledged that parents today live busy lives and are often strapped for time -- she said she knows what that is like - the first lady emphasized that "families can make small, manageable changes" that can help their children.

Among them, she said, are removing processed foods from the kitchen and cooking at least one good meal per week. She also emphasized the importance of limiting TV consumption.

"We stopped TV during the week, [and] our kids had to find a way to keep themselves entertained," she said. "We did things like go outside, throw a ball, turn on the radio, go dancing."

Obama also advised parents to frame exercise in a fun way to help encourage children to get off the couch.

"I think we should talk about physical activities as play, which is actually what it is," she said. "I think our goal is to make sure that we're not treating this like a task or a penalty. That's the trick with kids, getting them to do things that are good for them without them realizing it."

President Obama's well-documented predilection for fast food was also a topic of discussion during the interview.

"One of the reasons why he and I don't shy away from fast food is because we want our kids to know about balance," the first lady said.

She added: "It's not about saying no forever to ice cream and French fries, because no one can sustain that. What we talk about is that those are special treats. [There's] nothing wrong with getting your popcorn at the movies..."

But while the first lady talked heavily about the obesity issue, she also warned of some of the serious consequences associated with focusing too heavily on weight loss.

"The flip side to obesity can be eating disorders and we certainly don't want to enforce the reverse trend," she said. "The campaign 'Let's Move' is not about how our kids look. It's really about how our kids feel and our health."

She advised parents not to talk specifically about weight loss, but rather to make their focus "an overall health picture."

"My husband and I try to make a good healthy lifestyle a part of what we're doing," she said. "We try to talk little or not at all about weight."

The first lady also spoke last night at the NAACP National Convention, where she also highlighted the perils of obesity, especially among African American families.

"Surely the men and women of the NAACP haven't spent a century organizing and advocating and working day and night only to raise the first generation in history that might be on track to live shorter lives than their parents," she said.

She added that currently 23.5 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, live in what she called "food deserts" -- areas without a single supermarket. The issue, she said, is "particularly serious in African American communities where folks wind up buying their groceries at places like gas stations and bodegas and corner stores where they often pay higher prices for lower-quality food."

With one of the initiative's four main pillars being improved access to healthy affordable foods, Obama said that she is dedicated to helping reduce the number of food deserts around the country.