“It got to the point where our pediatrician pulled me aside and urged me to make some changes for the sake of our daughters’ health.” (Photo by meltechfoto/Shutterstock)
First Lady Michelle Obama is living proof that just because you live in the White House doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun. While she certainly takes her Let’s Move! campaign seriously, she’s also danced up a storm with Jimmy Fallon and tweeted inside jokes to her husband. It’s clear she’s high-energy (um, have you seen this workout video?), but more importantly, she’s driven by a serious passion to help America get healthy.
In this exclusive interview, the FLOTUS explains why putting yourself first is key to getting and staying healthy, how she’s helping kids learn to love being active, and what she hopes to achieve next.
On Her Less-than-Healthy Past…
“Too often, we as women work so hard to take care of everyone in our families and manage everything at our jobs, and we forget to pay attention to ourselves. In fact, our own health is often our very last priority—that last item on the to-do list that we never quite get around to.
"That used to be the case in my own life. I remember back when our older daughter was born, and I was exhausted, struggling with all those late-night feedings and diaper changes while trying to manage my own career and support Barack’s career. Back then, I was barely able to take a shower every day, let alone get to the gym. And one day, my mother sat me down and told me, ‘Michelle, you cannot be there for everyone else if you’re not there for yourself.’ Like usual, she was right. And while, like many women—and men—I’ve struggled to find the right balance, I try to make sure that my own health and wellbeing is up there at the top of the list along with my family’s.”
On Walking the Walk…
“I certainly don’t consider myself a fitness icon—that’s way too much pressure! But I do hope that by being active, whether by hula-hooping with kids on the White House lawn or by hitting the gym as often as I can, I’m showing people that there are all kinds of ways to get fit and that it’s really about finding the activities that work best for your own body. I hope I’m also showing people by example that getting fit can be fun!”
On Helping Her Family Stay Healthy…
“Back when I was a busy working mom living in Chicago, Barack and I didn’t always make the best nutrition choices. We were a little too dependent on our microwave and the local takeout places. It got to the point where our pediatrician pulled me aside and urged me to make some changes for the sake of our daughters’ health. That was a real wakeup call for us, so we started making some simple changes that made a big impact: cooking at home more, eating more fruits and vegetables, and drinking more water. And we could really feel the effects on our bodies. ”
On the Success of Let’s Move!…
“We’ve helped create healthier daycare centers—where fruits and veggies have replaced cookies and juice—for 1.6 million kids. We raised standards for school meals, and more than 30 million kids are now eating healthier school breakfasts and lunches. We created our Let’s Move! active schools program, and nearly nine million kids are attending 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 have cut 6.4 trillion calories from their products. And today, childhood obesity rates have finally stopped rising, and obesity rates are actually falling among our youngest children. ”
On What She Hopes to Achieve Next…
“While we’ve made some real progress on this issue, we clearly still have a long way to go—nearly one in three kids is still overweight or obese—and I really wish we could solve this problem more quickly. Unfortunately, our childhood obesity epidemic has been decades in the making, and we can’t fix it overnight. But if we keep pushing forward in all sectors and giving families the information and support they need to make healthy choices, I believe we will be able to give all our kids the healthy futures they deserve.”
On What We Can Do to Help…
“One of the most important things we can to do to protect women’s health is to protect the Affordable Care Act that my husband passed back in 2010. Because of this law, most health plans now cover preventive care like pap smears, contraception, and flu shots—with no out-of-pocket costs. Insurance companies can no longer discriminate against women—believe it or not, insurance companies used to be allowed to charge women more than men for the very same coverage. And they can no longer discriminate against you and charge you outrageous rates if you have a pre-existing condition like HPV or even pregnancy—yes, pregnancy was sometimes considered a pre-existing condition.
"This law has helped so many women, and we need to make sure that no one takes away the protections it provides for us and our families.”
For more exclusive interviews with game changers like Michelle Obama, pick up the October 2015 issue of Women’s Health.
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Reported by Lesley Rotchford