Michelle Obama photo

Interview of the First Lady by U.S.M.C. Staff Sergeant Josh Hauser of the Pentagon Channel

January 28, 2011

SGT. HAUSER: Ma'am, first off, let me just say thank you so much for being with us here today.

And now, let me ask you, why is this issue so important that, you know, you feel so passionately about, that -- you know, not only healthy eating for children but, you know, a recommitment to our military families and recognition of them as well.

MRS. OBAMA: Well, first of all, the military family issue. I came to this issue probably like -- probably, like most Americans, I'm not a part of a military family. I didn't know too many people directly that were engaged in the military. But through conversations that I've had with military spouses and learning about their challenges, my visits to bases throughout the last couple of years, meetings that I've had with the spouses of senior enlisted officers and commanders, I've just grown to respect and admire the courage and to understand and appreciate the unique challenges that these families face.

But I think most Americans are like me: they just don't know that all of this is going on, and they don't know how to step up and help. And I think that launching a major campaign to help rally the nation around the 1 percent of Americans that are protecting the freedoms for all of us is the least we can do.

Nutrition and the nutrition of our soldiers ties directly to the work that I've been doing on Let's Move, focusing on childhood obesity. And it's just shocking to see what the Army is seeing on the ground, which are the implications of children who grow up without proper physical activity, without good nutrition habits. They come to the Army as recruits, and they're not ready to serve. And the cost that is borne by the government to get these young people ready is something that we have to be aware of. It means that childhood obesity isn't just something that families are dealing with in an isolated way in communities. It is a national security issue. And I think those two issues intersect in a very interesting way.

SGT. HAUSER: Well, ma'am, that less than 1 percent of Americans who are serving in the military, do you think people really understand -- you know, childhood obesity is -- seems to have become an epidemic over the past few years. The military looks at it as a matter of military readiness because we look at today's youths as potential recruits for tomorrow and years to come. Do you think the American people really have an understanding that this is actually a military readiness concern?

MRS. OBAMA: I don't think so. I think after today's visit at Fort Jackson, I think they're going to have a better snapshot. The general here made a compelling presentation showing the statistics over the last decade or so in how the fitness levels have just sort of fallen off.

And another surprising statistic is the amount of poor dental hygiene that he's seeing among these recruits, which they tied directly to the increase of sugary drinks and the lack of access to good dental care.

All that, those costs, because the Army has to make these young people military-ready, we're all bearing those costs. And that -- those are statistics that I didn't know. And I think the Army does a good job of providing the kind of snapshot, the sort of real-life, on- the-ground understanding of how some of our broader policy decisions about eliminating PE from schools and eliminating nutrition education and the -- you know, the impact that hours of TV and computer time is having on our kids. The Army is seeing the price that we're paying every day that they see a new recruit and try to train them and get them ready for battle.

SGT. HAUSER: Well, ma'am, you've seen what they're doing here at Fort Jackson. Do you believe the Go Green campaign is something that, you know, we need to continually reinforce in the military to remind -- you know, we're not just talking about children; we're talking about adults who are joining the military -- but to remind them of just how important it is to have a healthy lifestyle and diet?

MRS. OBAMA: Well, and that -- and one of the things we talked about was the notion of taking that program military-wide. And that's -- I think that's one of the beautiful things about the military. You all have the ability to test out new ideas in -- you know, at a micro level, and then bring those things to scale.

So my hope is that we'll see programs like these implemented throughout the military -- not just the Army, but in every branch. And once you all understand the results that you can get in just a 10- week period of time oftentimes, my hope is that the rest of the nation will learn some important lessons about how you change the habits of people over a longer period of time. I think that we can learn a lot by programs like Fueling The Soldier and Go Green. I think those are all excellent initiatives.

And more importantly, you're keeping the -- you have the data to support some of the ideas that you're implementing, and I think that'll go a long way to convincing the rest of the nation what -- that, first of all, we have a real problem, and how we can possibly go about improving on the quality of health for our young people.

SGT. HAUSER: Now, some people will say that it costs a little bit more to eat healthy. And with today's economy being what it is, what would you say to those individuals who are struggling to get by, but they still want their families to eat healthy, especially, you know, some of our folks in the reserve components, their families who don't necessarily live on or next to a base and have those programs that are readily available for support?

MRS. OBAMA: Well, you know, first of all, I'd say I understand. You know, the Let's Move initiative focuses on the challenges of affordability and accessibility. Now, we as a nation have to do more to improve on those. We need to make sure that there are grocery stores located in all kinds of communities so that people have access, that healthy foods don't cost a premium for families over the lesser healthy alternatives. Those are initiatives, things that we're working on every day. So, yeah, we can't just tell people to eat healthy if it's not affordable.

But I'd also encourage families to think about the long-term investment and implications. And, you know, there are ways to think about these challenges without thinking about them so big. I mean, we're talking about adding a vegetable, making sure there's a vegetable on the plate every night, making sure that we're looking at portion sizes, making sure we're adding a piece of fruit here or there, that we're taking out sugary drinks and putting in water, that kids are drinking a little more milk. Small changes, you know, and that's what Fort Jackson has discovered, that the program they're implementing isn't actually costing them more money. In fact, in one kitchen facility the general indicated that they had saved $600,000 because of using less grease because they weren't frying as much food. So they were saving -- they were saving money because of the implementation of Go Green.

So I'd urge families to think creatively about the small things that they can change. A lot of times it's eliminating foods rather than adding them, taking out processed foods, making dessert a sometimes treat as opposed to any everyday treat, trying to bake more than you fry. You know, so there are small things that if people have the information about, they can make changes before the entire market changes. But these are investments that we have to make in our kids.

And getting kids moving doesn't cost anything, you know? Turning off the TV and getting your kids to run up and down the stairs or walk to school if they can or throw a ball in the house, you know, without breaking anything. You know, there are even computer games that encourage more movement, the Wii Fits. I don't like to promote any one product, but there are computer games that, you know, get kids off the couch and get them moving. I mean, those are the kind of things we have to inform parents about, that days of sedentary activity won't cut it, you know? Kids have to be moving every day, and they have to eat more vegetables, and they have to have fruits on their plate, and they can't drink soda as their primary drink. You know, those are some basic parameters that probably every family could try to implement even without the cost structure of the entire society changing first.

SGT. HAUSER: And just one last question, you -- you know, you got to see Fort Jackson's facilities. You got to talk with some of the folks in some of the programs that are going on down here. What were the concerns they raised to you? And what were they telling you? What are you taking back to Washington with you after this visit?

MRS. OBAMA: Well, I think what I'm hearing is that we have to prepare our young people earlier. You know, we need to reinstate physical education in the schools. We need to ensure that every kid has an opportunity to be active and move around. We need to do what we've been doing in terms of passing legislation that's going to make sure that the kids -- the food in public schools are healthy, that they're -- that they're bringing in salad bars and teaching kids how to enjoy vegetables and how to make a salad and make it in a way that they're going to like it and going to eat it. Nutrition education is a critical part of a broad education.

All these things are not one-offs. They're not extras. They're necessary to ensure that these young people grow up to be healthy and viable citizens, not just to become soldiers, but to live, you know, healthy lives and to be productive citizens that, you know, aren't -- aren't benched because of an injury, that can't work because they can't move. We don't -- we don't have a choice. These things are necessities. And that's the kind of the information I'm going to be taking back to Washington, and that we need to make sure that programs like Fueling The Soldier and Go Green are expanded, and that we look at the lessons that they've learned, and figure out how we can implement these kind of successes at a broader level, and make them known by people beyond the military.

SGT. HAUSER: Well, ma'am, thank you so much for raising concern about both of these issues. And thank you again for sitting down with us. Good to see you -- (inaudible) --

MRS. OBAMA: Oh, it's always a pleasure. Thank you.

SGT. HAUSER: Thank you, ma'am.

Michelle Obama, Interview of the First Lady by U.S.M.C. Staff Sergeant Josh Hauser of the Pentagon Channel Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320956

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