Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee defended first lady Michelle Obama Wednesday from conservative critics who he said have painted her anti-obesity campaign as nothing more than "a government takeover of our dinner plates."  

"She's been criticized unfairly by a lot of my fellow conservatives," Huckabee said at an event sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor, adding that the criticism is more "a reflex" than "thoughtful expression." 

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and conservative talk host Rush Limbaugh are among those who have slammed Michelle Obama's efforts as heavy handed. 

"It's exactly what Republicans say they believe," Huckabee said of the first lady's campaign. "By putting the focus on individual responsibility, you encourage people to make good choices and reward them for doing so. I thought that was what we're about." 

The former governor, who has struggled with his own weight in the past and has helped promote Michelle Obama's efforts, said rather than condemning her, "I think we ought to be thanking her." 

Huckabee said the nation's obesity problem is worthy of more serious discussion and that it goes well beyond economics. 

"If you really want to talk about obesity -- let's talk about it as a national security issue," Huckabee said. "We better hope we don't have a war with anybody because we're not gonna have anybody who can pass the physical and wear the uniform."