Michelle Obama photo

Interview of the First Lady by Michelle Norris on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered"

February 10, 2011

MS. NORRIS: First lady Michelle Obama, thank you very much for allowing us to visit you in your office.

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you.

MS. NORRIS: I remember seeing -- I'm looking out the window here and at the South Lawn and seeing you out there on Hula-Hoop and jumping to the obstacle course, playing flag football. Were you on those days, in your mind thinking, I am smashing the image of the traditional first lady by going out and doing something that no one else has ever done?

MRS. OBAMA: Well, I'm thinking - when I do these things, I'm thinking, if people see me, the first lady with my shoes off, running around with kids, sweating, jumping around, making a fool out of yourself, then maybe more moms and dads would say, I can do that and actually that looks fun.

You know, the White House, the platform of first lady, it just brings attention and that's one thing I do know. So I've been pretty conscious about making sure that the attention I get is around good stuff that's going to move the country.

MS. NORRIS: On an anniversary, it's time to take stock of your accomplishments and you've done much in the last year. How do you make sure, though, that the people who have made promises -- entities like Walmart for instance -- how do you make sure that they follow through on what they said they were going to do? Will there be an outside evaluator, for instance, to keep their feet to the fire?

MRS. OBAMA: Yeah. Well, that's been one of the, I think, very innovative components to Let's Move. We've worked from the very beginning with the Partnership for a Healthier America. And it's a separate nonprofit that started for this very purpose -- to be that third party accountability system. So we've got some real good expertise, people who care about this issue, who are going to be tracking and monitoring this from here on out.

MS. NORRIS: Over time, if accountability is part of the calculation here...

MRS. OBAMA: Absolutely.

MS. NORRIS: Does that mean that you will go public or this evaluator will go public if people aren't meeting their goals?

MRS. OBAMA: You know, we haven't figured out yet, you know, how do we talk about accountability, but it's key. I mean, the taskforce report that the president's domestic policy office put together set up some very clear recommendations and measurements because we knew that to move the needle, we had to be looking every couple of months, every few years, every five years at whether we're actually making progress, because if we're not, then we need to do something differently.

MS. NORRIS: This week, when there was a discussion about restaurants limiting their portion sizes, some said that this is an example of the White House espousing a nanny state -- that the White House shouldn't tell people how to eat or when to eat or how much they should eat.

What goes through your mind when you hear someone like Sarah Palin say, get off my back about this?

MRS. OBAMA: You know, I think they just need more clarification about what Let's Move is really about. At the core of this effort is really giving parents information and better choices. They're absolutely right. There is no way that the first lady can or should effectively go into someone's house and tell them what to eat. It doesn't work. It wouldn't work in my household - in fact, I would resent it.

But what I do know that parents want is they want help. It's information that empowers families and communities and moms and dads. So yeah, the critics who believe that's what Let's Move is about just need to be informed about what it really is.

MS. NORRIS: Parents who are busy sometimes reach for packaged foods just because it's easier. It shaves time off; it's - everything is all in one box. Sometimes all you have to do is add water and throw it in the microwave. Is that something that you might take on in the future -- Americans' growing dependence or reliance on packaged foods?

MRS. OBAMA: I think the conversation has to create awareness around the effects of relying so much on packaged foods. Packaged foods help. I understand. What's helpful to parents is for them to know clearly what's in the package. And then they have to make the decisions about how much of that package to use, how often.

Maybe you are dining on a packaged, processed meal, but you'll put a fresh head of broccoli on the plate. Maybe you'll do fruit for dessert and then maybe you'll turn on the radio and dance before dinner for an hour.

MS. NORRIS: Do you do that?

MRS. OBAMA: We oh, yes, oh yes! There's lots of dancing going on in the White House -- (laughter) -- especially with Sasha and Malia.

So kids aren't like us. Their metabolisms are still pretty on it. You know, so it doesn't take much to move the needle for them -- unless you're dealing with some extreme cases of obesity and that's when families need to go to their physicians. The American Academy of Pediatrics is all over that. They're going to be screening for BMI, as they've done, but they're actually going to be writing prescriptions to families now for healthy living.

And sometimes when a doctor writes you a prescription for some fruits and vegetables, it makes it a little more empowering for a mother to actually go home and say, well, the doctor said you need it - those string beans - it's not me anymore.

MS. NORRIS: What's your guilty pleasure?

MRS. OBAMA: Oh, I have so many.

MS. NORRIS: I mean, I know that you eat a lot of fruit and vegetables, but when you let it go and you decide, you know, I'm going to live on the outside edge today, I'm going to go for the calories, what do you go for?

MRS. OBAMA: You know, I am a salty food lover.

MS. NORRIS: So not desserts. You prefer savory?

MRS. OBAMA: I prefer savory. But the pie at the White House is decadent; it's bad; it's evil.

But I -- and I've said this before: french fries, I love them. We love pizza, we love burgers and fries. I mean, we -- you know, we eat like most American families. I think the difference is that we prepare - or we have, now we have this food prepared -- and it's real food, right? And that makes a difference.

Hamburgers are not innately bad. It's just the quality of the meat, the quality of the vegetables that go along with the meal. You know, as we've talked about in our household, burgers and fries in and of itself is not a bad meal. It's potatoes and meat with a vegetable. Can we have it every night? No. Does it work better if you bake the potatoes rather than fry them? Yeah, yeah. So there are little changes like that.

MS. NORRIS: Rutabaga fries? Sweet potato fries.

MRS. OBAMA: Well, there you go. Sweet potato fries are really good as well. So we need to share those tips.

MS. NORRIS: If I could, I just want to ask one last question because we're expecting a significant news day in Egypt. I just wonder if you have a message for the people of Egypt, as we've been watching these momentous events over the past couple of weeks.

MRS. OBAMA: Yeah. My message to the people of Egypt is that all democracies are hard fought. But we live in a country that operates under a wonderful democracy and I think our history has shown that the struggles are all worth it. And I wish the people of Egypt the very best.

MS. NORRIS: First Lady Michelle Obama, thank you very much.

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you.

Michelle Obama, Interview of the First Lady by Michelle Norris on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320957

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