Michelle Obama: 'Let's Move' Initiative Battles Childhood Obesity

First lady on "very ambitious" plan to end childhood obesity in a generation.

ByLEE FERRAN via via logo
February 4, 2010, 5:37 PM

Feb. 9, 2010— -- Michelle Obama formally announced today what she called a "very ambitious" program to end the American plague of childhood obesity in a single generation.

"We want to eliminate this problem of childhood obesity in a generation. We want to get that done," the first lady told "Good Morning America's" Robin Roberts in an exclusive morning television interview. "We want our kids to face a different and more optimistic future in terms of their lifespan."

The far-reaching, nationwide campaign called "Let's Move" calls for a myriad initiatives that target what Obama calls four key pillars: Getting parents more informed about nutrition and exercise, improving the quality of food in schools, making healthy foods more affordable and accessible for families, and focusing more on physical education.

"We all know the numbers," Obama said. "I mean, one in three kids are overweight or obese, and we're spending $150 billion a year treating obesity-related illnesses. So we know this is a problem, and there's a lot at stake."

While the federal government will play a role in the initiative, Obama said it is a "minor player in a very big approach.

"There's no expert on this planet who says that the government telling people what to do actually does any good with this issue," she said. "This is going to require an effort on everyone's part."

This morning, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum to create the first-ever federal task force to provide "optimal coordination" between private sector companies, not-for-profits, agencies within the government and other organizations to address the problem of childhood obesity.

"We think that this has enormous promise in improving the health of our children, in giving support to parents to make the kinds of healthy choices that oftentimes are very difficult in this kind of environment. And so I just want to say how proud I am of the first lady for her outstanding work," the president said, as she looked on.

The task force will be charged with coming up with a "long-term action plan" after an extensive review of all federal nutrition programs.

"I have set a goal to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight," the text of the president's memorandum reads. "The first lady will lead a national public awareness effort to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity. She will encourage involvement by actors from every sector -- the public, nonprofits, and private sectors, as well as parents and youth -- to help support and amplify the work of the federal government in improving the health of our children."

President Obama also plans to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, the first lady said, and is proposing a $10 billion budget increase -- $1 billion a year for 10 years -- to help provide nutritious school lunches to those who qualify.

Battling Childhood Obesity: In the Schools

On the front lines in the war against childhood obesity are the nation's schools, where Michelle Obama said 30 million American children are getting "a majority of their calories."

In addition to the government's effort to support nutritional meals in schools, the first lady said there also needs to be a focus on physical activity in school.

"Because of budget cuts, we're losing recess, we're losing gym classes," she said.

In some states physical education is not mandatory for students. In Florida, where state law requires elementary and middle-school students to participate in physical education classes, a waiver option allowed thousands of students to opt out.

"When we were growing up it wasn't a choice," Obama said. "It wasn't either learn how to read or you learn how to run. We did both. ... And there are schools, even without additional funding, that are figuring out ways to do it."

The first lady said she can relate to everyday families when it comes to the stresses of life and the effort it takes to eat healthy.

"Even though I live in the White House today, and I've got a lot of help ... I still relate to the stress and the challenge of doing what you know is the best thing for your child.

"And parents are hitting up against a brick wall, again, trying to make it all work -- hold down a job, get kids to activities, cover homework, get them to extracurriculars and then let's shop and cook for meals?"

To help parents, the first lady said she's working with the Food and Drug Administration and major food manufacturers and retailers to make it easier for parents to identify healthier foods by placing nutrition labeling on the front of the package.

Also, Obama wants to work with local mayors and governors to create a "tailored approach" to getting their citizens healthier based on the challenges each community faces. The American Academy of Pediatricians is partnering with the government to educate pediatricians to work more closely with families when it comes to weight.

Obama doesn't expect families to make drastic changes, only to balance indulgences with healthy options.

"I love burgers and fries, you know? And I love ice cream and cake. So do most kids. We're not talking about a lifestyle that excludes all that. That's the fun of being a kid. That's the fun of being a human," Obama said.

ABC News' Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.

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