First lady: Anti-obesity effort not about government telling ‘people what to do’

In a new interview made available Monday, first lady Michelle Obama defended her “Let’s Move!” anti-obesity program against critics who call it a government intrusion.

“‘Let’s Move!’ is not about having government tell people what to do, because government doesn't have all the answers,” Mrs. Obama said in an interview with Topanga Sena, age 11, a reporter for Scholastic News in Florida. “A problem that's this big and affects so many people requires everyone to step up. So we're asking everyone to step up.”

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Obama has toured the country for the second anniversary of her anti-obesity initiative, leading school groups in jumping jacks, hula-hooping and a round of the dance known as the “Dougie,” as well as challenging talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to beat her in a push-up contest (Obama won) and ribbing late-night hosts Jay Leno and Jimmy Fallon over nutrition.

She concluded the tour with a stop at the ESPN Wide World of Sports at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla.

Some of Obama’s “Let’s Move!” critics have warned the program could increase discrimination based on body weight, while others have linked the administration-backed initiative to increased government intrusion into public schools, for instance warning that schools should not have oversight over kids’ homemade lunches.

“I don't believe in absolute 'no's to anything, because that wouldn't make life fun,” Obama told Scholastic News. “What would life be without the bake sale, right?”

She added that she loves french fries. “I wish I could eat french fries every single day,” she said. Some conservative pundits have specifically singled out french fries as a food they say Obama’s nutrition campaign would ban.

One of the accomplishments Obama celebrated with her second anniversary tour was the USDA’s new school meal regulations, implemented in January 2012, which seek to ensure public schools serve more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and less sodium, saturated fat and trans fats. According to the White House, the new mandatory standards for federally subsidized school lunch programs are the first major changes in school meal regulations in over 15 years. Republicans in Congress recently pushed back against the new regulations by attempting to drop them from a 2012 spending bill.

The first lady explained that the “Let’s Move!” program is an attempt to make sure government does “its part" to support others' choices.

“Parents have to make some changes at home, you know, but they need the information to be able to make those choices, and they have to have access to affordable foods in their communities, fresh and healthy foods. We need government to do its part, but we need businesses to do their part as well,” she explained. “If we're going to solve this problem, we need everyone to step up. And there's no one solution. … People have to figure out what works best for their family, their budget, their lifestyle, their community.“

The first lady launched the anti-obesity initiative in February 2010. In the interview, she touted the support she’s seen from community centers such as the YMCA and YWCAs, Girl Scouts, childcare facilities, the video game industry and faith communities.