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Michelle Obama focusing 'Let's Move' on 'move'

First Lady Michelle Obama has always said that her “Let’s Move” campaign to reduce childhood obesity is based on a combination of healthier eating and more exercise, but today she signaled that she is beginning a period of emphasis on physical activity.

“We as a society need to redefine for our kids what play is. We as a society need to make physical activity a part of our kids’ daily lives again, and we need to do it in a way that is easy, affordable and fun -- not just for kids but for parents,” the first lady said at a Partnership for a Healthier America summit in Washington.

“I want to call on all of you, and folks all across the country, to just step back and ask yourselves, ‘What more can I do to help our kids lead more active and healthy lives?’ I want you to ask yourselves what you can do to invest, or to innovate, or to inspire our kids to get out there and play again.

The first lady added that it should be easier for parents to get their children to exercise than to get them to eat right.

Michelle Obama
First Lady Michelle Obama
“It shouldn’t be so hard to get them to run around and play, right? This isn’t forcing them to eat their vegetables. It’s getting them to go out there and have fun,” she said before showing a video of herself in various forms of exercise on the White House lawn.

At a conference at which major corporations and foundations announced efforts they are launching to improve eating and encourage exercise, Obama cited the efforts being made to improve eating as a reason Americans can lead children to get more exercise.

“Major food manufacturers are cutting sugar, salt and fat from their products,” she said. “Restaurants are revamping kids’ menus and loading them with healthier, fresher options. Companies like Walgreens, SuperValu, Walmart, Calhoun’s Grocery are committing to build new stores and to sell fresh food in underserved communities all across this country.

“Congress passed historic legislation to provide more nutritious school meals to millions of American children,” she added. “Our schools are growing gardens all over the place. Cities and towns are opening farmers markets. Congregations are holding summer nutrition programs for their kids. Parents are reading those food labels, and they’re rethinking the meals and the snacks that they serve their kids.”

The first lady cited some alarming statistics about how little exercise kids are getting today.

“The fact is that, today we may well be raising the most sedentary generation of kids in the history of this country,” she said. “Kids today reportedly spend an average of seven and a half hours a day watching TV, playing with cell phones, computer games, video games. Only one-quarter of kids play outside each day ... one-quarter of our kids play outside. And that’s compared to three-quarters of kids just a generation ago. And only 18 percent of high school students get the recommended one hour of physical activity a day.”

Just as she had earlier called on food companies to make healthier products, the first lady said video game companies should develop video games that “get kids moving their entire bodies, not just their thumbs.”

In sessions Tuesday and today, a wide range of companies announced their commitments to changing their businesses to encourage better health.

Hyatt Hotels committed to offering a fruit or vegetable item with all children’s meals, promote water or milk as beverage options on children’s menus “with other beverage options displayed less prominently,” and to making two healthy menu meals equivalent or lower in price than less healthy menu meal options.

The Partnership for a Healthier America was founded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the California Endowment, Kaiser Permanante and other groups. Food companies played less of a role in this conference than in most anti-obesity efforts, although the American Mushroom Institute and the Mushroom Council, a checkoff group, were sponsors. Mushroom Council President Bart Minor said that mushrooms can replace higher-calorie items in spaghetti, tacos and sloppy Joes.

On Tuesday evening, the 800 attendees ate three-course meals with ingredients that cost only $4.50 per person cooked by chefs including Michel Nison of Wholesome Wave, the group that provides coupons to double the fruit and vegetable purchases of federal nutrition beneficiaries at farmers’ markets.

Afterward, Sam Kass, the White House deputy chef and food adviser, emceed a Great American Family Dinner competition between two chefs who cooked meals on a food stamp budget.

James Gavin, a medical school professor who chairs the partnership, said that the commitments the companies have made will be monitored, although exactly how that will happen is unclear.
William Frist
William Frist
Former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and Cory Booker, Democratic mayor of Newark, N.J., serve as honorary vice chairs of the Partnership for a Healthier America.

Frist warned the companies that they must make “meaningful commitments.” He also warned that American consumers “know the real difference between real commitments and hollow attempts at PR.”

Some activists have questioned whether these efforts are worthwhile, especially when Congress voted this month to stop the Agriculture Department from limiting potatoes in school meals and to allow pizza topped by a small amount of tomato sauce to qualify as a vegetable serving.

Frist said at a news conference that Congress should write laws, but that the executive branch should implement them.
Cory Booker
Cory Booker
Booker said he wasn’t interested in getting into debates over the farm bill or other congressional issues at this time.

He said he could “scream about the farm bill or pizza not being a vegetable” and “fall into sedentary agitation,” but that he has to “work with a Mom who doesn’t have access to a grocery store.”

“I see these guys coming up with real solutions. I celebrate this coalition. They’re getting something done,” Booker said.