It's been a year since first lady Michelle Obama kicked off her "Let's Move!" campaign to fight childhood obesity. In that year, she has shimmied in a Hula-Hoop, run barefoot through an obstacle course and played flag football on the White House lawn.
"When I do these things, I'm thinking, 'If people see me — the first lady — with my shoes off, running around with kids, sweating, jumping around, making a fool out of yourself, then maybe more moms and dads will say, 'I can do that, and actually that looks fun,' " Obama tells NPR's Michele Norris in a conversation at the White House.
Obama says one thing she knows is that her role as the first lady brings attention.
"I've been pretty conscious about making sure that the attention I get is around good stuff that's going to move the country," she says.
Over the year, Obama has won commitments to provide healthier meals in America's schools, including the addition of 6,000 salad bars. And last month, she announced a joint effort with Wal-Mart to reduce the sugar, salt and fat in many of its most popular products — as well as to make fruits and vegetables more accessible at lower prices.
In order to make sure that the people and companies involved in the Let's Move campaign follow through, Obama says there are people monitoring what's happening.
"We've worked from the beginning with the Partnership for a Healthier America," she says. "It's a separate nonprofit that started for this very purpose — to be that third-party accountability system. So we've got some real good expertise, people who care about this issue, who are going to be tracking and monitoring this from here on out."
What they haven't figured out yet, Obama says, is how to talk about accountability.
"I mean, the task force report that the president's domestic policy office put together set up some very clear recommendations and measurements, because we knew that to move the needle, we had to be looking every couple of months, every few years, every five years, at whether we're actually making progress," she says. "Because if we're not, we have to do something differently."
The Let's Move campaign has also been trying to get restaurants to serve smaller portions, which has drawn criticism from some people, including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who say it's not the government's place to decide what people eat. Obama says she understands that concern.
"I think they just need more clarification about what Let's Move is really about," she says. "At the core of this effort is really giving parents information and better choices. They're absolutely right, there is no way that the first lady can or should go into someone's house and tell them what to eat — it doesn't work. It wouldn't work in my household — in fact, I would resent it. But what I do know that parents want is they want help. It's information that empowers families and communities and moms and dads. So yeah, the critics who believe that's what Let's Move is about just need to be informed about what it really is."
One of the pieces of information that may be helpful to parents, Obama says, is a clear explanation of what's in packaged foods.
"Then they have to make decisions about how much of that package to use, how often," she says. "Maybe you are dining on a package-processed meal, but you'll put a fresh head of broccoli on the plate. Maybe you'll do fruit for dessert, and then maybe you'll turn on the radio and dance before dinner for an hour."
There's "lots of dancing going on" in the White House, especially with Sasha and Malia, Obama says.
"Kids aren't like us, their metabolisms are still pretty on it," she says. "So it doesn't take much to move the needle for them, unless you're dealing with some extreme cases of obesity, and that's when families need to go to their physicians. The American Academy of Pediatrics is all over that. They're going to be screening for BMI, as they've done, but they're actually going to be writing prescriptions to families now for healthy living. And sometimes when a doctor writes you a prescription for some fruits and vegetables, it makes it a little more empowering for a mother to go home and say, 'Well, the doctor says you need the string beans, it's not me anymore.' "
But just like anyone, Obama says she has some guilty pleasures. She loves salty foods like french fries — and the pie at the White House.
"It's decadent, it's bad, it's evil," she says. "We love pizza, we love burgers and fries. I mean, we eat like most American families. I think the difference is we prepare — or, now, we have the food prepared, and it's real food, and that makes a difference.
"Hamburgers are not innately bad, it's just the quality of the meat, the quality of the vegetables that go along with the meal. As we've talked about in our household, burgers and fries in of itself is not a bad meal. It's potatoes and meat with a vegetable. Can we have it every night? No. Does it work better if you bake the potatoes rather than fry them? Yeah. So we need to share those tips."
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