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Michelle Obama Takes Fight Against Childhood Obesity to C-Span Forum

Michelle Obama shakes hands with students following the forum. AP

First Lady Michelle Obama held a forum on childhood obesity with students in the White House State Dining room on Wednesday.

The C-Span televised event brought together middle school students from the Washington area as well as contestants from C-Span's "StudentCam" film competition whose documentaries tackled the issue of childhood obesity.

Children's health, and fighting obesity in particular, has become Obama's signature issue as first lady, similar to Nancy Reagan's campaign against drug use.

The first lady told the crowd that her passion for the issue originated from her experience as a mother. Obama claimed that her family's health habits were "way out of kilter" until her pediatrician warned her about the potential health consequences.

In response, Obama made simple changes such as adding more fruits and vegetables to her children's diet, and limiting desserts and TV time.

"If I could make those kinds of changes and it could help my family in such a significant way, I wanted to make sure that we were doing that with the rest of the country." she said. "If I'm having this problem in my household and I don't know it, then what's going on with everybody else?"

Obama encouraged kids to think about the choices they make in their own lives and to take responsibility for their own futures. "You don't need a teacher or a parent to do it. You guys have the power to start doing it," she told the audience.

"Solutions have to come from the bottom-up," Obama insisted. "The government can't be in a position telling people... what to do in their own homes."

Obama downplayed the role the federal government can play in better health practices. "Folks know their communities better than we'll ever know," she said.

The first lady described her role at the White House as a platform to encourage school boards and local governments to take up the issues of nutrition education and children's health in their own communities.

On the other hand, Obama did recognize that government could be a useful tool for implementing more straight-forward nutritional labels, providing funds to improve the quality of school lunches and eliminating "food deserts," or communities that lack grocery stores.

More than anything, the solution for childhood obesity involves the commitment and cooperation of families, kids, business leaders, farmers, food manufacturers, and communities. "No one is off the hook on this one," said Obama.

"It doesn't take millions of dollars and whole bunch of legislation to get it done," she added. "We don't have to count on people passing stuff, thank God."

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