Michelle Obama keeps moving with ‘Let’s Move’

February 9, 2012

In recent days Michelle Obama has encouraged Jay Leno to eat his veggies, done push-ups with Ellen DeGeneres and challenged Jimmy Fallon to a fitness competition that had the first lady racing the talk show host through the White House.

“I’m pretty much willing to make a complete fool out of myself to get our kids moving,” Obama has said. (Fallon was primed to take her up on the offer, including a potato sack race and dodge ball in their contest.)

It’s all part of an effort to bring attention to Obama’s Let’s Move initiative, which celebrated its second anniversary Thursday. To mark the event, Obama has also launched a four-state tour to promote her efforts to reduce childhood obesity and encourage healthy eating.

Obama’s efforts to publicize her cause have worked, according to a recent survey by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation. More than eight out of 10 Americans say they have heard of Let’s Move, with 35 percent saying that have heard a lot about it.

That is by design. Obama is a near constant presence on cable’s Nickelodeon, where her public service announcements are frequently aired. Pop star Beyonce wrote a song especially for the effort, and Better Homes & Gardens — one of the nation’s largest magazines — featured Obama on its cover last year, along with a story about healthy eating initiatives. She will release a book in April about the White House garden titled “American Grown: How the White House Kitchen Garden Inspires Families, Schools, and Communities.”

In a press release, aides said that Let’s Move has made “significant progress” toward solving the problem of childhood obesity. She has secured pledges from national chains to serve healthier foods, especially to children. Among the most prominent was “a binding, legal agreement” signed by Darden restaurants to cut calories, offer healthier fruit and vegetable side dishes, reduce sodium and give free refills of one percent milk to kids. The East Wing also worked with Wal-Mart executives, who — accompanied by the first lady— announced a campaign by the low-priced retail giant to stock more healthful foods and to push its suppliers to do the same.

But it’s too early to know whether Let’s Move is having a noticeable affect on Americans’ eating and fitness patterns. In the Post-Kaiser poll, women who said they exercise regularly and those who do not exercise were about equally aware of Obama’s campaign. Older women, college-educated women and upper-income women are a little more likely to have heard a lot about the initiative. And women who said it is important to be physically attractive were 10 points more likely to have heard a lot than those who say attractiveness it’s not important. There was no difference among women with kids at home and those without.

Obama is bringing more attention to her efforts — including visits to some swing states in the presidential campaign on Friday.

On Thursday afternoon Obama plans to hold a celebratory event in Des Moines — with figure skater Michelle Kwan, gymnast Shawn Johnson and WNBA player Tamika Catchings among others — to highlight Iowa’s efforts to become a healthier state. She will also hold an event with military families in Little Rock, Ark, and make a stop in Fort Worth, Tex. On Friday she will head from Dallas to Florida to talk about Let’s Move.

Polling director Jon Cohen and polling manager Peyton Craighill contributed to this report.

Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has been a business reporter, covered presidential campaigns and written about civil rights and race. More recently, she has covered the first lady's office, politics and culture.
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