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First lady's 'Let's Move' anniversary tour starts Thursday

Sam Kass
Sam Kass
Sam Kass, White House senior policy adviser on healthy food initiatives and deputy chef, briefed reporters today on the first lady’s upcoming three-day tour to celebrate the second anniversary of her “Let’s Move” initiative.

Kass was joined on the call by people who will be involved in the first lady’s stops in Iowa, Arkansas, Texas and Florida.

Michelle Obama will begin her tour Thursday in Iowa, which has made a commitment to becoming the healthiest state in the country by 2016, as measured by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

Ric Jurgens

Ric Jurgens
Ric Jurgens, chairman and CEO of Hy-Vee, a chain of 230 retail food stores in eight Midwestern states, noted that Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, helped start the healthiest state initiative when he was a university president. Branstad and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, a former Iowa Democratic governor, will take part in the Iowa events.

Jurgens said the movement started with a program to get all Iowans to go for a walk at the same time and that at least 300,000 people participated. The initiative also includes a program to try to replicate the healthiest communities in the world and a 100-day challenge in which people try to increase physical activity and lose weight. The initiative, Jurgens noted, “is government-endorsed, not government led.”

Jonathan Woodson

Jonathan Woodson
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Jonathan Woodson said Obama’s visit to the Little Rock Air Force Base will highlight a program that has improved food service quality, variety and availability.

The Defense Department considers obesity not just a national problem but a national security issue, Woodson said. About a quarter of the candidates for the military are too heavy to enter the military or do not make it through the first part of the training because of their weight. The number of people in the military with weight problems has risen from 2-in-100 before 2000 to 1-in-20, he said.

Noting that the military spends $4.65 billion on food per year, Woodson said cited a “food transformation initiative” to redesign menus and convince soldiers to choose healthier foods.

“Significant announcements for improved standards for foods across the military” will be made during Obama’s visit, Woodson said.

From Little Rock, the first lady will travel to Dallas, where she will dine at an Olive Garden restaurant to sample the healthier menus that restaurant chain is offering, Kass said.

She will also attend an event with Top Chef “chef’testants,” joining students from the Dallas Independent School District, which has the most “gold level” schools in the USDA’s Healthier U.S. School Challenge program.

Dora Rivas

Dora Rivas
Dora Rivas, executive director for the district’s nutrition services, said that the schools changed their menus two years ago, removing presweetened cereals, serving pizza and hamburgers less often, and adding homemade pasta, whole grain breads, dark leafy green vegetables and a fruit cup.

This spring a thousand cooks at the schools will get culinary training from chefs, she said.

Younger children are “brutally honest” in their reactions to the new foods, “but we are educating them,” Rivas said. “A cafeteria line is a learning laboratory,” she said. “We are working on offering promotions and having them taste new foods.”

In Longwood, Fla., on Saturday, Obama will speak to a diverse gathering of 3,000 people about the work of faith and community organizations to support healthy lifestyles.

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez

Rev. Samuel Rodriguez
The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of The National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, also known as the Hispanic Evangelical Association, will take part.

Rodriguez noted there are “some Hispanic cultural dynamics” such as the love of tortillas that foster obesity, and that once Hispanics are in the United States, where sugared soft drinks and certain other foods are more freely available, they “are prone to indulge in them without restraint.”

He said Hispanic pastors have begun “preaching the gospel of good health” and that “the body is the temple of the holy spirit.” Rodriguez added that his group has challenged pastors to lead by example in losing weight and exercising.