The View: First Lady Michelle Obama. Gardening May Help Fight Obesity.

Michelle Obama on the View5-29-2012 First Lady Michelle Obama visited the ladies of The View to talk among other things about her new book and her “Let’s Move” initiative to fight childhood obesity.  “American Grown. The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America”  of which all proceeds will go to the National Park Foundation,  is her first book and was inspired by her garden project at the White House.  Hundreds of kids from schools and youth groups are invited to the White House to work with The First Lady in the garden from planting to harvest, in hopes they will be motivated to learn about where food comes from and embrace a healthier diet. 

She told Barbara Walters that her inspiration for the garden came as a result of her own personal challenges with her children’s health.  Before coming to the White House Michelle and Barack Obama were like any other American family.  They both had full-time jobs and they were eating out more than they should.  She was not cooking enough meals at home and was slipping in those sugary drinks.

Her pediatrician pulled her aside and suggested she take a look at the girls’ diets.  She said she was stunned because she considered her family healthy people and thought she was doing everything she was supposed to do.  But life has changed for kids today.  They spend on average 7.5 hours a day in front of a screen.  Gym and recess in many schools have been eliminated and there is a lot of fast food.  Things are just getting out of control.

So she had to take a look at her own house.  Her kids were already active but she found that making a few simple changes in their diet like putting in more water and adding more vegetables made the difference.

She found one of the things that got them more focused on vegetables was taking them to farmers markets and having them select the vegetables and engaging them in the process. They understood more where the food was coming from and since they were involved in the process they owned eating vegetables more. 

When they came to the White House she felt that it would be an amazing platform, as First Lady to address the national obesity epidemic and shine a light on childhood obesity. Maybe digging up the South Lawn of the White House and planting a garden and inviting children to participate would get kids engaged in the whole conversation about where food comes from and what it means.  That was the jumping off point for the whole “Let’s Move” initiative.

How do you begin that conversation?  How do you talk to families about what their kids are eating?  It’s a personal subject and no one wants anyone telling them what to do with their kids.

But they found by starting with the kids, the kids start the conversation and are the catalyst for the change in their homes and in their schools.  The First Lady says she has seen this discussion blossom in ways that she had not expected and it all started with the garden.

She said she has seen grocery manufacturers reformulate their products and restaurant chains changing their ‘Kids Menus.’  They have gotten a new nutrition legislature passed in Congress which will be implemented this fall. These are the first changes in 30 years regarding the standards of school lunches.

There have been organizations working on these issues for decades but the platform as First Lady has hopefully added a voice to elevate these issues.

Barbara Walters asked her about the criticism and resentment people are feeling about her trying to tell them what to eat and to exercise and that their personal life should not the business of The First Lady.  Michelle Obama says she agrees that we are not going to solve the obesity problem by telling people what to do.  But what parents do need is information and a community around them that is helping them to make the good decisions that are right for them.

They need good labels on products, they need schools that offer nutritious healthy meals for their kids so it doesn’t undermine what parents are trying to do at home.  We need to all figure out ways to help their kids get more active because in many communities you cannot send your kids outside to play because it’s not safe anymore.

“Let’s Move” is all about providing parents with the support they need, in the kind of country that nurtures that type of health so it’s not an uphill battle.

“Let’s Move” is working directly with the schools in having these conversations, to arm parents and children with the information on how big a role exercise plays and is as important as nutrition in a child’s success in school.  Unfortunately when there is a shortage of money in schools systems,  programs like recess are the first things to go but these things are critical.  Imagine a kid with attention deficit issues having to sit for hours in a classroom with no break.  Or a kid who’s coming to school with chips and soda.  These are the things that we are trying to educate the importance and need of.

Michelle Obama mentioned that schools are now implementing their own school gardening programs. The kids get to go outside,  get exercise while gardening and at the same time they are learning about nutrition and food and how it grows and how fresh food tastes.  These children will take their experience home and hopefully engage their families into starting their own gardens.

What about if you don’t have a yard or live in urban dwellings?

Michelle Obama says you can grow vegetables and herbs in planters on a fire escapes, roof tops or on a window sill.  She said there are schools that grow vegetables in different types of planters such as grow bags.  Her book addresses gardens across American and gives tips for all kinds of gardening situations.

The First Lady reminds us that our kids are watching us.  They are going to follow our lead. They see her on the South Lawn hula hooping and jumping rope. We’re talking about playing and playing with our kids. In the end this is all supposed to be fun!

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