WASHINGTON - First lady Michelle Obama launched her sweeping initiative, Let's Move, in early February. The statistics she has repeated are both jarring and daunting: One in three children is overweight or obese. The dollars she has proposed the federal government dedicate to the dilemma are significant: at least $10 billion over 10 years.
Most of the attention has focused on the nutrition part of the equation - thanks in large part to her vegetable garden that took on astonishing international significance. Let's Move aims to make wide-ranging improvements to the eating habits of a food-addled society. Fitness is a less discussed, yet crucial, piece of her initiative. She will unveil the details of a comprehensive fitness agenda in the coming weeks.
"If kids are naturally active, they shouldn't have to worry about what they eat. That's how it was when we were growing up. Nobody talked to you about nutrition. You ate your vegetables. You ate what was on your plate. And you went outside and played. There wasn't a need for structured activity," she says in an interview in her office. "The physical education piece is about exploring that. In our nation, what happened? What have been the cultural trends that have led us away from that regular exercise and activity that kids used to get?"
The days when children came home from school and went outside to play until the streetlights came on aren't coming back, Obama acknowledges. She wants to lead the way in finding contemporary, healthy traditions.
"How do we answer the questions or give solutions or approaches to parents in all different kinds of communities?" she asks rhetorically. "There are going to be kids who can't just go out and play. They're home alone, or their neighborhoods aren't safe. . . . Or what about families that are living out in rural areas where they don't have a car and can't go to the local soccer field?"
"We have to decide as a nation that physical activity and nutrition and all that stuff is just as important as test scores and good grades, textbooks and everything else we make the trade-off for," she says. Failure to make those things a priority "can kill our kids."