Michelle Obama Gets Kids Moving
First Lady Michelle Obama tells SI KIDS Kid Reporter Grace Ybarra about her mission to get kids healthy and active.
Q: What initially sparked your idea for Let's Move!, your campaign against childhood obesity?
A: Let's Move! started because, as a mom before coming to the White House, I watched how hard it was for me and for a lot of my friends with kids to find that balance. I had a job and my husband traveled a lot. We just didn't have time to cook healthy meals. Our refrigerators were filled with too much processed food and sugary drinks, and it was starting to take a toll on my family's health. So we made some basic changes. We eliminated really sugary foods; we cleaned out our pantry of a lot of processed foods; and we started visiting the farmers market. I also involved the girls in the process of what they ate and introduced them to new fruits and vegetables. Those basic changes made a world of difference in the health of my girls, and I thought, Well, if I didn't know this — and I thought I was a pretty educated mom — then there are probably a lot of families struggling with this issue. We needed to have a movement in this country to give families and communities the education they need to make the best choices for their kids. So when I got to the White House, I thought, What better platform than being First Lady?
Q: In addition to eating right, being active is also a huge part of Let's Move!, When you were a kid and growing up, did you have any particular sports that you enjoyed playing?
A: I grew up in neighborhoods where all the kids were out riding their bikes, playing softball and tag. I was kind of a tomboy, so I liked to play softball. I loved to run track. I was trying to keep up with my big brother in every single thing he did, and he was very active. He played basketball on neighborhood courts and got involved in neighborhood leagues. Activity was an important part of our community upbringing.
Q: I assume it is really hard to stay fit at the White House. What sort of exercise do you do?
A: We have a gym in the White House, and the President and I work out together every single day. Because we are driven a lot of places and we live above the office, we don't walk around like we used to, so working out is really important. There are tennis courts here. There is a pool here. There is also Camp David, which is the Presidential retreat that's here in the area. That's a bigger open space with basketball courts; it's easy to go biking and hiking and things like that. The girls have normal activities. Sasha plays basketball. She's in a rec league. Malia runs track for school, and she plays tennis on the team. Sasha also takes dance classes. They do everything that normal kids do.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for the newest part of your program, Let's Move! Active Schools?
A: We have a challenge. Kids are spending most of their day in school, where there is not a lot of activity on a daily basis. And they're coming home to spend the rest of that day in front of a TV, or on an iPad, or on some kind of screen. So, that leaves very little time for movement. Schools are the best place to incorporate exercise because kids need that break in between studies to just give their minds a chance to settle. We want to make sure people understand that movement isn't just about being a good athlete. There are a lot of kids who shy away from activity because they think, "Well, I'm not coordinated." But the truth is that movement is pumping your arms, it's dancing, it's touching your toes, it's identifying your physical strengths and not comparing yourself to your classmate, because we are all different. So we want to make activity fun again for kids in schools. Let's Move! Active Schools is an initiative to find champions throughout schools.
Q: You have a lot of important figures that help you with this initiative. Who were the first athletes to join you?
A: Oh, there have been so many. With this Let's Move! Active Schools initiative that we just launched, we had some great athletes from Nike. We had [49ers quarterback] Colin Kaepernick, [tennis player] Serena Williams, and [Olympians] Dominique Dawes and Michelle Kwan because both Dominique and Michelle also serve on the President's Fitness Council. [Clippers guard] Chris Paul is on that council as well as [NASCAR driver] Carl Edwards. For many people, sports was the hook that kept them in school. One of the things with Let's Move! Active Schools that we are trying to do is remind this country how important sports, physical activity, and movement are to the educational development of children. Fewer than 10% of [public] schools in this country have daily physical activity. For good academics, you have to have good nutrition and a healthy body with a flowing heart to keep the mind pumping.
Q: You've accomplished so much. What new goals do you have?
A: Well we really want to get Let's Move! Active Schools launched, and we want to spend the next few years really drilling down on the importance of movement. We need kids stepping up and saying, "My health is important, [and] I am going to take some ownership. I am going to go into my classroom tomorrow and ask my teacher why we don't have more movement every day. Let's become part of Let's Move! Active Schools and take leadership and get a bunch of other kids involved and get parents involved." Kids can be those change agents, so we want to keep bringing attention to this issue and doing it in a fun and relatable way.
How You Can Help: The First Lady is looking for kids to lead the charge, so help make your school a part of Let's Move! Active Schools. Through the program, you can help your school get the support it needs to get you and your classmates active — and you might even learn some fun new games along the way. Talk to a teacher or parent and visit letsmoveschools.org to learn more.
Kids helped the First Lady kick off the Let's Move! Active Schools campaign in Chicago. Check out SI Kids reporter Christina M. Tapper's report from the kick-off party!
Photo: Lawrence Jackson/The White House