Michelle Obama's Let's Move campaign seeks to fight obesity in kids

Wednesday, February 17, 2010; C10

Do you love burgers and fries? What about ice cream and cake? If you answered "yes," you're not alone. First lady Michelle Obama admits to loving those not-the-best-for-you treats, too. But the president's wife is worried that many kids are eating too much unhealthy food and getting not enough exercise.

In fact, a lot of people are concerned that a growing number of children today are considered obese -- that is, they weigh significantly more than what would be considered a healthy weight for their height.

So Obama last week launched a new campaign, called Let's Move, that she hopes will encourage kids to get more physical activity and schools to offer more healthful foods. Television network Nickelodeon is joining the effort and plans to show commercials and other programming on its TV channels and Web sites that will help children learn more about nutrition and exercise.

More electronics, less exercise

Part of the problem is that kids are not as physically active as they used to be. A recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that kids ages 8 to 18 spend an average of 10 hours and 45 minutes using entertainment media each day, such as computers, television, video games and music players. That's up from 7 hours and 29 minutes 10 years ago.

That's a problem because you can gain weight if you aren't active enough. It works like this: The food you eat provides your body with energy, which is measured in calories. The more active you are, the more calories you use up. On the other hand, if you eat more calories than you burn up, the extra calories are stored in your body as fat -- and you gain weight.

A typical not-very-active child age 9 to 13 should eat between 1,600 and 1,800 calories a day (girls on the lower end, boys on the higher end). A kid who gets a lot of exercise should eat 200 to 400 more calories each day.

Making healthy choices

But a kid who eats a diet full of high-calorie fast food and sweet treats probably eats more calories than he needs and should get extra exercise to keep from gaining weight. A McDonald's cheeseburger and small fries has almost 600 calories -- and that's without a soda or milkshake. By comparison, a small banana has about 75 calories.

The first lady wants kids to understand that if they eat plenty of healthful foods such as fruits and vegetables, and they are "running and walking and playing," then it's okay to eat a not-so-good-for-you meal "every once in a while."

Obama said she works hard to get her daughters, Malia, 11, and Sasha, 8, to be more active. "My kids have to get up and move," she said. "They can't just sit in front of the TV."

-- Margaret Webb Pressler

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