Earlier this week, in an interview with Nikki Gladd for BlogHer First Lady Michelle Obama talked about her Let's Move initiative, celebrating the healthy changes in school cafeterias, and sharing more we can all do to tackle the obesity epidemic, make better food choices, and get more exercise.
Ms. Obama shared a powerful message of parents supporting parents, sharing ideas and encouragement -- which she underscored today in the closing keynote at Building a Healthier Future 2013, the Partnership for a Healthier America summit in Washington, D.C. Our government, schools, organizations, and businesses can all do their best to provide healthier options, but unless parents get on board, those options are going to be left on the plate.
Image: First Lady, Michelle Obama, taken by Elisa Camahort Page, co-founder and COO of BlogHer
"When it comes to the health of our kids, no one has a greater impact than each of us do as parents," she pointed out at the start of her speech, imploring parents to keep up the good work and continue helping kids make good choices by mirroring healthy behavior.
Ms. Obama understands that these harder choices can cost us time and money. As she pointed out, she didn't always live in the White House. Prior to being the First Lady, she had her own career, along with two young children with a husband who traveled often. She got a laugh from the room when she revealed how trips to the food store often went down:
"Back then, something as simple as a grocery shopping trip required a finely honed plan of attack. That trip to the supermarket was one of a dozen items I had to check off my to-do list within my few precious hours of errand time. So each week, armed with my budget and my list, I was on a mission to get in and out of that store in less than thirty minutes. Thirty minutes is all I had. So if the fruit wasn't already pre-packaged, you could forget about it. I did not have time for bagging, weighing, and calculating thoughts in my head. I was all about grab and go, you hear me? And if I had my daughters with me? Then the clock was really ticking before somebody needed to be fed or diapered or put down for a nap. Oh, and heaven help me if I got all the way to the produce aisle at the end and realized that I made a rookie error and forgot the cereal or the pasta in one of the previous aisles. Oh... no no no. Then I had to maneuver that big, heavy cart full of groceries and those two little kids all the way around the store. And trust me, no one was happy about that."
In other words, she knows how hard it can be to make healthy choices. She has been there with the crying kids, and she has reached for the easier snacks already in a box instead of sifting through piles of apples to choose the best ones. She knows that most people don't have time to carefully compare labels or think back to all the messages they've received about making healthy choices. She said,
"We can give parents the most comprehensive pamplets and the most up-to-date websites, but we cannot expect folks to remember everything they've read days and weeks later when they're in that grocery store aisle."
In other words, we have to set up a world where parents can make those healthy choices easily. It matters. It matters when it comes to the layout of the grocery stores: Ms. Obama pointed out the difference between stores that structure their produce aisles at the start of the route as opposed to those who have the produce right before checkout. It matters where food items are placed, whether they're on hard-to-reach shelves or at eye level. It matters which characters appear on the item, endorsing the food. Companies and businesses need to help make parents good decisions, rather than hinder them.
The First Lady's second point was that parents need to be parents. We know kids won't always take the healthier option, so we need to entice them to take the healthier option. And no, we can't get off the hook by saying, "But my kids don't like vegetables."
"We know as parents that it's not always easy to get our kids to eat what we serve them, but that doesn't mean that we ignore our responsibilities. We would never dream of letting our kids skip going to the doctor or learning how to add and subtract just because they don't like it. And the same thing is true about eating healthy. We know we have to be firm.
Still, she went on to discuss how she knows -- and we know -- that we're not the only influence on our children, and we're often working against the messages our kids receive from commercials or ads that encourage them to choose unhealthy options. She spoke a lot about the ways various companies have signed on to help change those messages that kids receive, quoting an interesting study that looked at whether kids would eat broccoli if it were packaged with a picture of Elmo (hint: the answer is yes).
The final point Ms. Obama made was to and for parents. We parents need to do more than just make good choices for our children. It's not enough to sign our kids up for activities or serve them healthy meals; we need to take care of ourselves, so we're mirroring the choices we want our kids to make in the future.
Her last words were on my mind as I ran to catch the Metro, bypassing the corner store stocked with candy bars that I really, really, really wanted to grab in order to have a little energy for the ride home. But it's sort of hard to go there once you hear Michelle Obama speak about how important your choices really are -- because you know she's right.
As she put it today,
"As it turns out, one of the most important things we can do for our children's health is to take care of our own health.
So I took care of my own health, and waited to grab a bowl of high-protein cereal when I got home. Even though my kids didn't see me make that choice. But I knew, and sometimes that's enough.
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