Seeds of Change: Michelle Obama on Raising Healthy Kids

More Insight from Michelle Obama

Q. In your book you speak about how this issue isn't about how kids look; it's about how they feel about themselves. When I talk to my sons about how they eat I'm careful not to let the conversation turn into one about body image. What type of messages do you try to send, especially raising daughters?
A. I try to approach it as giving my kids information... typically, we'll talk about what a body needs. This is our latest conversation: You would never feed a plant soda -- you would find that idea ridiculous. Plants require water and sunlight. I tell my kids we are like plants, living organisms; and we have to think about the food we put into our body. One soda won't wilt us completely, but we can't dump soda into our system year after year. Those conversations have nothing to do with weight but are about the function food plays in the life of a healthy body.

With my girls, when it comes to exercise it's more about competition and teamwork. I talk to them about how to lose and win gracefully.

Q. I read that you asked them to take part in one sport that they want to do and one sport that you want them to do. How's that working?
A. My older daughter, Malia, gets it. She's 13. Tennis was the sport I made her do and now it's the one she loves. The sport I was making Sasha do was swimming, but that takes a lot of time. The sport she loves is basketball.

I also encourage each girl to try an individual and a team sport. We aren't talking about how they look. We are talking about what to do to be a well-rounded person.

I encourage my girls to get comfortable being sweaty, being dirty, physically falling down and getting back up and realizing you will be okay.

Q. What's up next for the White House garden?
A. We are still trying to figure out how to grow a pumpkin, still waiting for the figs on our tree. Every year we do something different. We added mushroom logs last year and now we're producing wonderful mushrooms. We're also still trying to figure out how to get decent berry crops. As gardeners know, you are constantly learning and making mistakes and then waiting a whole season to find out if your solution actually works.

Q. What's next for Let's Move!?
A. This year, in addition to focusing on nutrition and access and affordability issues, we want to drill down on the movement piece of Let's Move! The obesity epidemic has many prongs, and nutrition/diet/access/affordability are all part of it. But we've got to help communities and parents restructure their priorities so we are walking more and having less screen time and more activity time, so play is reincorporated into our culture -- with kids learning how to ride a bike, walk up stairs, do some sit-ups, play hula hoop, jump rope, and all the things we grew up with.

We need to talk to our schools about incorporating physical activity back into the curriculum. Many of our public schools have eliminated recess because of limited resources. We are learning that physical activity is a key to a child's success. You can't ask children to sit and learn math if they haven't gotten a chance to run around and blow off some steam. That's why you see me doing push-ups and jumping jacks. I'm willing to look like a fool if it gets people to move. Kids love it when the grown-ups in their lives play too. My kids love it. Sometimes I embarrass them, but when I'm running around and kicking a ball and doing a flip and showing them how I can jump rope, they get curious. They want to try it. We are going to be doing a lot of playing with kids and families around the country.

If you've got a leg, you can lift it. If you've got an arm, you can raise it. Those are the small things that make change. You don't have to do 25 push-ups in a row tomorrow. We want to get some excitement around physical activity as we've done with good food and good eating.

Originally published in the June 2012 issue of Parents magazine.

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