Michelle Obama photo

La Stampa Q&A with First Lady Michelle Obama

June 17, 2015

The following Q & A with the First Lady was featured in La Stampa.

1) "Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life" is the core theme of the Expo in Milan. Could you explain what kinds of nutrition and health challenges you're seeing in the United States and what the prospects are for finding a solution?

I wanted to come to this Expo because no matter where in the world we live, we all want healthy, nutritious food for our families. I know that raising healthy kids is a challenge for families all over the world, and it's important for us to learn from each other.

The way we live and eat in the United States and other developed countries has changed drastically over the last 30 years. For example, we eat fewer home-cooked meals and our portion sizes have gotten larger and larger. We've seen an increase in obesity and its associated health risks, such as diabetes and heart disease. Right now, one in three kids in the U.S. is overweight or obese – for African American and Hispanic kids, the rate is nearly 40 percent – and obesity is now one of the leading causes for preventable death and disease in the United States.

But the U.S. isn't the only country facing these challenges. Globally, the prevalence of obesity has nearly doubled since 1980. In 2013, more than 42 million preschool children were overweight. Diabetes has increased worldwide by 45 percent in the last two decades. And to date, not a single country has reversed these obesity trends in a lasting way.

Still, there's a lot of reason for hope – all around the world, people are coming up with new ideas and partnerships to help stem the tide of this epidemic. That's what my Let's Move! initiative is all about. We're working with every sector of society—parents, schools, businesses, faith leaders, medical professionals, community-based organizations, and more— in our efforts to help our kids grow up healthy.

So while we're in Milan, we'll be sharing some of our successes. But more importantly, we'll be taking the time to learn from leaders here in Italy and all around the world to find out what's working for them. Because no one nation has a monopoly on good ideas – we can all help each other find solutions for the families in our countries.

2) You just celebrated the fifth anniversary of your initiative "Let's Move!" What are the best results you have achieved and the next goals?

Through Let's Move! we have started a new conversation about how we eat and live in the U.S., and the results we've seen are beyond anything we could ever have imagined. 1.6 million kids are now attending healthier daycare centers where fruits and vegetables have replaced cookies and juice, and more than 30 million kids are eating healthier school breakfasts and lunches. Two million kids now have a Let's Move! salad bar in their school, and nearly nine million kids attend Let's Move! Active Schools where they get 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Thousands of chain restaurants have created healthier kids' menus, and food and beverage companies cut 6.4 trillion calories from their products. 70 million people now live in a Let's Move! City, Town or County where kids can walk to school on new sidewalks, participate in a summer meal program, or join a local athletic league. Religious leaders are teaching their congregations about healthy eating through Let's Move! Faith and Communities; families are getting active in our national parks through our Let's Move! Outside initiative; and kids are enjoying healthy eating exhibits at one of the nearly 700 Let's Move! Museums and Gardens.

Taken together, these changes are starting to have an impact. Childhood obesity rates have finally stopped rising, and obesity rates are actually falling among our youngest children. But while the progress we've made is impressive, it's also incredibly fragile, and we still have a long way to go before we finally solve this problem. And while I am in my final stretch as First Lady, I have no intention of slowing down on this issue. I plan to continue this work long after I leave the White House.

3) How can families find ways to work healthier options into their lives?

One of the best ways any family can ensure they're getting a nutritious meal is to cook meals together in the kitchen. When you cook at home, you're in control of your nutrition – you decide the ingredients, portion sizes, and amount of vegetables. So if you're not already, try cooking one more meal at home each week – and involve your whole family in the process.

4) Could you tell us what is a typical healthy menu that your family enjoys for dinner?

A typical Obama family dinner will include a lean protein, a whole grain, and a vegetable. For example, we might have baked chicken with brown rice and broccoli, or grilled fish with couscous and a green salad.

5) Women still play a very important role in overseeing their families' nutritional needs. How should society help them?

Women need to be informed and empowered to make their health – and the health of their families – a priority. That starts with making healthy food more available by bringing more fresh food retailers into underserved communities and ensuring that families make a decent living so they can afford to buy that food.

We also need to provide more support in the workplace so that women – and men – can balance the needs of their families with the demands of their careers, because it's hard to stay healthy if you don't have the flexibility to care for yourself and your children. I know this from my own experience. After my older daughter was born, and I was struggling through those sleepless nights, my mother encouraged me to care for myself as well as I cared for the rest of my family. She made me realize that if I wasn't fully there for myself, I wouldn't have the energy and strength to be there for my baby daughter and my husband. I was lucky to have a job that allowed me to do that, but many women don't have that option, and that needs to change.

Michelle Obama, La Stampa Q&A with First Lady Michelle Obama Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320945

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