TIME White House

Michelle Obama’s Pro-Water (Soda Silent) Campaign Makes Waves

Michelle Obama
First lady Michelle Obama, a longtime supporter of healthier eating and physical fitness, is surrounded by children as she expands her push for America to drink more water, at a "Drink Up" event at the White House. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

“I’m confident that in the coming months and years we will see people across the country drinking more and more water."

First Lady Michelle Obama devoted Tuesday afternoon to telling Americans to drink less sugary soda, without actually saying anything bad about sugary soda.

It’s been nearly a year since the First Lady launched the “Drink Up” campaign, a subset of the signature effort to promote healthy choices for kids that focuses on water. But instead of attacking the sugary, carbonated drinks and juices that contribute to the widening waistlines of our nation’s kids, “Drink Up” attempted to flood the market with positive, pro-water messaging.

At an event in the White House State Dining Room, the first lady said those who have been involved in promoting “Drink Up”—from the American Beverage Association to the Obama’s Portuguese water dog Sunny —have succeeded in making water “cool.” “I’m confident that in the coming months and years we will see people across the country drinking more and more water,” Obama said.

Their efforts have been proof that when you market and promote healthy choices as fervently as junk food, “then kids actually get excited about these products, and families actually buy them and consume them,” Mrs. Obama added. Seven organizations, including Brita, Nalgene, Haws Corporation, and S’well bottle, recently joined the campaign to promote the consumption and accessibility of water. And so far, according to a study conducted by Nielsen Catalina Solutions on the impact of the “Drink Up” campaign, online ads have helped fuel a 3% lift in sales of bottled water, worth about $1 million.

It’s good news for a campaign that came out the gate to criticism from nearly all sides. Some argued Mrs. Obama’s messaging about the benefits of water, which she called a natural “energy drink,” was inflated. Others said she should be promoting drinking tap water over bottled for the sake of the environment. While many were critical of the fact that instead of vilifying soda companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi she partnered with them, which seemed contradictory given the direct link from sugary drinks to obesity.

“It’s less a public health campaign than a campaign to encourage drinking more water. To that end, we’re being completely positive,” Lawrence Soler, president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, said at the time of the campaign’s launch. “Only encouraging people to drink water; not being negative about other drinks. “

A year later, however, tensions have cooled. “It’s terrific that the First Lady is working to make water more available, more cool,” said Margot Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Increasing the appeal is one part of what needs to be done to reduce the consumption of other beverages.”

And meanwhile, First Lady Obama has gotten tougher on her efforts to promote healthier lifestyles. Though Tuesday was about fun and positivity—a group of local YMCA kids on the South Lawn even “surprised” the First Lady with a 60-by-40 foot water drop made out of 2,000 “Drink Up” branded reusable bottles—the anti-junk undertones didn’t go unnoticed. She even took time to mention the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s healthy school lunch standards she championed in 2010 and has been fighting since May to protect.

On Tuesday, the general message was, “don’t give up on our kids.”

“We need to keep working together within industries and across industries to help our kids lead healthier lives,” the First Lady said. ” And if we do all that, then I am confident — I continue to be confident that we can give our kids the bright, healthy futures they deserve.”

This story was updated to clarify that the survey on Drink Up was performed by Nielsen Catalina Solutions, a joint venture between The Nielsen Company and Catalina Marketing Corporation.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

There’s A lot of Junk Food at the School Nutrition Conference

This year's annual conference run by the School Nutrition Association is not without politics

The 68th Annual National Conference of the School Nutrition Association is finishing up today in Boston, and it’s not go on without controversy.

Here’s some backstory: When the Obama administration revamped the school lunch requirements, they received a lot of praise and counted among their champions the School Nutrition Association. But now, the group, which is a national organization of school nutrition professionals, is heading up a lobbying campaign to let schools opt out of the requirements saying they are too restrictive and costly. (You can read in detail what the group is pushing for here.)

Many experts in the school-nutrition world are surprised by the stance the SNA has taken and some of its members have resigned, voicing criticism of SNA for accepting sponsorship money from food companies.

At the same time, Congress is considering legislation to delay by one year some of the school-lunch regulations, as the New York Times reported earlier this month.

Given the ongoing debate about school nutrition, it shouldn’t be surprising that this year’s convention—which brings together 6,000 school nutrition professionals and industry members—has been mired in politics. As Politico reported: Sam Kass, the Executive Director of Let’s Move! was even turned down when he asked to speak at the conference this year.

Though the conference has long allowed food companies to be involved, their new position on the school lunch standards have some nutrition groups and experts skeptical. And that makes the presence of fast food and junk food at the event all the more surprising.

Here are some tweets from public health lawyer Michele Simon:

To be sure, there were certainly booths with healthy food–even a great vending machine idea like this one:

So while the conference highlighted ways to get kids to eat more healthy food, it’s hard to take seriously when Cheetos and pizza are so heavily marketed.

TIME

Michelle Obama: ‘Nothing Is Cooler Than Having a Good Education’

ESSENCE

Read Michelle Obama’s interview with ESSENCE.

First Lady Michelle Obama discusses her family life and the importance of education in a new interview with ESSENCE.

“The people we admire in our society today are athletes, singers, reality stars. You don’t see teachers an doctors and lawyers revered in the same way,” Obama tells the magazine. “So, naturally, kids gravitate to what they think is cool. But one of the things I’ve tried to tell my girls, and try to tell all the children I talk to, is that there is nothing cooler than having a good education. Education is going to open the doors to the opportunities that are going to give you the freedom later on in life to make really cool choices-like having a good job, being able to own a home, being able to take vacations and travel the world. That’s what being cool is.”

Obama also appears on the cover of ESSENCE, a fellow Time Inc. publication. The interview with the First Lady is accompanied by a special look at education in America. Obama is promoting a new initiative encouraging post-high school education called Reach Higher.

For more from the First Lady’s interview, visit ESSENCE.

TIME 2016 Campaign

First Lady: U.S. Should Elect Female President ‘As Soon as Possible’

White House Summit on Working Families
US First Lady Michelle Obama speaks at the White House Summit on Working Families, in Washington DC, June 23, 2014. Michael Reynolds—EPA

As long as it's not her, Michelle Obama said at the Summit on Working Families.

Michelle Obama said the U.S. is ready for a female president and that the country should elect one “as soon as possible” on Monday.

“The person who should do the job is the person who is most qualified — and we have some options, don’t we?” Obama told ABC’s Robin Roberts at the Summit on Working Families in Washington, D.C., according to video from C-SPAN3.

“I think this country is ready — this country is ready for anyone who can do that job,” she said.

Though she did not make any kind of endorsement, Obama’s remarks seem to acknowledge a possible run by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose 2016 campaign future has been the subject of wild speculation. President Barack Obama has said in the past that Clinton would be a “very effective” president if she decides to run and wins.

Michelle Obama, however, isn’t thinking about any kind of run for office herself. She said her post-White House plans “definitely will not be” political, but instead “mission-based” and “service-focused.”

[Mediaite]

TIME White House

Obamas Hope Daughters Will Try Minimum Wage Work

Barack, Sasha Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama with daughter Sasha participate in a community service project at the D.C Central Kitchen in celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service and in honor of Dr. King's life and legacy on January 20, 2014 in Washington, DC. Olivier Douliery-Pool—Getty Images

President and first lady Want Them To See "Getting a Paycheck Is Not Always Fun"

Growing up in the White House, Sasha and Malia Obama are largely isolated from the experiences of everyday Americans. To counter that isolation, first lady Michelle Obama said in a recent interview she hopes her daughters will “get a taste of what it’s like to do that real hard work” with a minimum wage job.

“We are looking for opportunities for them to feel as if going to work and getting a paycheck is not always fun, not always stimulating, not always fair,” President Barack Obama added in an interview with Parade Magazine released Friday. “But that’s what most folks go through every single day.”

But, nonetheless, 15-year-old daughter Malia Obama apparently grabbed a job as a production assistant on the set of Steven Spielberg’s upcoming TV series Extant. No word yet on how much that pays.

TIME Food & Drink

Alice Waters: The Fate of Our Nation Rests on School Lunches

TIME 100 Gala, TIME's 100 Most Influential People In The World - Red Carpet
Alice Waters attends the TIME 100 Gala, TIME's 100 most influential people in the world at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 29, 2014 in New York City. Kevin Mazur—Getty Images

It was the French philosopher Brillat-Savarin who wrote, “The destiny of nations depends on how they nourish themselves.” And it is this, his most famous idea, that is now never far from my mind when it comes to the discussion of school lunch in this country. When I read last week that there are those in Washington who would dismantle the recent positive gains that have been made in improving the way children are fed at school, I was appalled — yet sadly not surprised. As with many institutions and universal ideas in this nation in recent years, it seems that even something as right and as basic as feeding children food that is good for them has become politicized.

Right now we all need to pause, step back and look at the bigger picture. The costs associated with not investing in real food are too great, and we need to acknowledge honestly the far-reaching consequences that the current program has had in every area of American life. By allowing fast-food culture into the cafeteria, we have effectively endorsed that industry’s values, helped facilitate the obesity epidemic, widened the achievement gap and aided an addiction to junk. Even in the short term these costs, both tangible and intangible, dwarf the budget for a universal — and real — school food program. The idea of school lunch as an egalitarian mechanism to nourish our nation’s potential has long been discarded and devalued. We are faced with an enormous crisis of health, education and inequality.

We need to have the courage and conviction to establish a nutritious, sustainable, free school-lunch program for all.

The incremental steps the First Lady has fought for, as valuable as they are, are never going to address the challenges we are facing. Lunch must become integrated into the daily lessons. Like physical education, we need edible education. Until lunch becomes about learning and is central to school life, children and lunch ladies are bound to reject changes. A plan of this scope and scale may not be realistic in the current Congress, but it is where we must go. I truly believe that decisionmakers on both sides of politics will come to realize this is the most logical place to reach every child and have the most lasting impact. The public school system is our last truly democratic institution.

Having worked in it — and in this field — for more than 20 years with the Edible Schoolyard Project, I have seen that engaging all children at the table with a delicious meal made from real ingredients transforms their attitudes and behavior for life. By making lunch an interactive part of the curriculum, we empower children to make their own informed decisions.

When children learn about where their food comes from, their eyes open to the billion-dollar marketing campaigns that target them. They are also freed from the prison of fast-food addiction. It is my experience — and that of many other educators in the U.S. — that once there is a real alternative, children do not throw out their healthier options. In fact, they embrace those healthy foods and never look back.

I know that many in government on both sides of politics now realize that in food we find the root problem of many of our nation’s ills: diet-related disease, hunger, environmental devastation. And I am sure that by redirecting ourselves to real food, we find also the solution. We need to start at school. By radically changing the way we think about feeding our children, we not only change the nutrition of individual children and the diet of all Americans in a generation, we also restore the health of the land — and the essential values of this country.

TIME health

House Republicans Pass a Hot Potato on Healthy Federally Subsidized Meals

Michelle Obama, Eric Goldstein, Donna Martin
First lady Michelle Obama, seated with Eric Goldstein, chief executive officer, Office of School Support Services, New York City Department of Education, left, and Donna Martin, School Nutrition Program, Burke County Board of Education, in Georgia, speaks during a discussion with other school leaders and experts surrounding school nutrition in an event, Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

Republicans are not Impressed by the First Lady’s healthy food push.

House Appropriators awoke Thursday to an op-ed in the New York Times by Michelle Obama warning them not to pass legislation that she says weakens healthy standards for school lunches passed in 2010. “[S]ome members of the House of Representatives are now threatening to roll back these new standards and lower the quality of food our kids get in school,” the First Lady wrote. “They want to make it optional, not mandatory, for schools to serve fruits and vegetables to our kids. They also want to allow more sodium and fewer whole grains than recommended into school lunches.”

Unimpressed, the House Appropriations Committee approved the Agriculture Department’s fiscal 2015 spending bill, including the controversial changes, by a vote of 31-18. Republicans considered the changes fairly moderate, certainly not as dramatic as what the School Nutrition Association had advocated, according to a GOP aide close to the process, who noted that the bill was passed out of subcommittee unanimously. The SNA has been lobbying to slow down implementation of changes to school lunch rules because of a variety of challenges, such as the cost, the availability in rural areas and the drop off of a million students in the past year—mostly older high school students in urban areas who are going out and buying fast food in the place of the new healthy lunches.

At stake in the House bill are two roll backs. The first is a waiver that would allow schools struggling to meet the new standards an extra year to implement the changes. While this sounds innocuous enough, school budgets are not often clearly defined and it could give schools “the ability to game the system,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters on Wednesday. “Plus it would be complicated to implement. Would the department audit the schools?” More than 30 million children get one or more meals every day as part of the program.

Vilsack noted that 90% of the schools are already in compliance, a high rate for a new program. So to open the door for delays, critics say, could be the first step in dismantling regulations that Republicans have derided as the government acting as a nanny state. Democrats tried to strip the waiver from the bill in Thursday’s committee mark up, failing in a vote along party lines.

In contrast, the Senate Appropriations Committee last week rejected blanket waivers in favor of boosting training to help schools come into compliance, provided more flexibility on whole grain standards and, in a victory for the cheese lobby, waived the second and third sodium reduction requirements due to come into effect in 2017 and 2022. The cheese lobby had been concerned that cheese doesn’t melt well with less sodium. Health advocates argue that children don’t need to be eating pizza and grilled cheese, any way.

The second change in the House bill would allow white potatoes to be included in the Women, Infants and Children program, which helps subsidize fruits and vegetables for low-income families. Up until this point, the program focused on encouraging the purchase of leafy greens and fruits not often bought by low income families. Potatoes are the number one consumed vegetable in the U.S., mostly in fried form. The potato changes were included in the both the House and Senate bills and, in a bow to the potato lobby, would mark “the first time that Congress has interfered with the scientists’ recommendation for the WIC program,” as Senator Tom Harkin noted in opposing the Senate version last week.

Potato supporters argue that the USDA says certain nutrients are still lacking in women and children’s diets and potatoes carry many of those nutrients. The Senate version limits the potatoes to whole potatoes with no additives such as oil and sugar, essentially barring program participants from using their credits to buy potato products such as French fries and hash browns.

The bill will now head to the House floor for passage before being conferenced with the Senate version where differences over the hot cheesy potato mess will be ironed out. It will surely not be as fun or tasty as it sounds, especially with Michelle Obama checking to make sure everyone’s eating their vegetables.

TIME health

You Say Potato, Mrs. Obama. I Say, Please Stop Micromanaging Our Diets and Our Schools

If you’ve ever wondered just where the role of government ends and where the ability of adults to choose things for themselves and their children begins, don’t bother. The answer, at least according to First Lady Michelle Obama, is nowhere.

Marching under the banner of Science with a capital S, Obama believes the federal government should be able to tell you what to eat. Or, more precisely, not eat. At least if you’re poor enough to be on relief or if you’re remanded to the custody of a K-12 public school.

Writing in the New York Times, Obama warns that “right now, the House of Representatives is considering a bill to override science by mandating that white potatoes be included on the list of foods that women can purchase using WIC dollars.”

Don’t get the wrong idea, though. Obama agrees that “there is nothing wrong with potatoes.” It’s just that according to the Institute of Medicine (a.k.a. “science”), the “low-income women and their babies and toddlers” served by the WIC program would be better off if they chowed down on “nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables.”

When it comes to schoolkids, Obama is just as emphatic that decisions are best made in Washington, rather than in the countless cafeterias of the nation’s 100,000 public schools. Some House members, she writes, “want to make it optional, not mandatory, for schools to serve fruits and vegetables to our kids. They also want to allow more sodium and fewer whole grains than recommended into school lunches.”

The First Lady believes that the various programs she’s championed over the past few years (like Let’s Move!, which hectors kids to exercise) are producing “glimmers of progress” in the War on Fat People, especially among children ages 2 to 5. The fact is, however, that there is no clear link between any of the programs she promotes and the trends she applauds.

According to a new Centers for Disease Control study, the obesity rate among kids that age is 8%, down from 14% in 2003. That’s all well and good, but the authors caution that one year doesn’t make a trend, especially since that group makes up “a tiny fraction” of the population. Indeed, the same report also notes that obesity rates among Americans 19 years old and younger had already stopped climbing by 2003 and have been flat ever since, at about 17%. Other accounts suggest that youth obesity rates peaked even earlier, in 1999. Over the same general time frame, adult obesity rates have stayed steady, at around 30%. This all came after a tripling of rates between the 1970s and 1990s.

Obama is welcome to take credit for a general flattening of trends that began years before her husband became President. However, when she starts urging the federal government to limit individual choices and centralize control in the federal government, attention should be paid. “As parents, we always put our children’s interests first,” she writes. “We wake up every morning and go to bed every night worrying about their well-being and their futures.”

If she really believes that, then why not treat poor people with the same respect that we treat middle-class and upper-middle-class folks? If we’re going to supplement their incomes, why not give them a cash payment and let them figure out how to make the best use of it?

Similarly, if we can’t trust our schools to figure out how best to fill their students’ stomachs, why the hell are we forcing our children to attend such institutions in the first place? When is the last time you heard kids who attend schools of choice—whether private, religious or public charters (which enroll disproportionately high numbers of low-income students)—even mention food?

During the debate over Obamacare’s individual mandate, we had a fiery national conversation over whether the government could force you to buy broccoli. But even when the Supreme Court effectively said it could, nobody believed it could make you eat the stuff. That debate, it seems, took place in a simpler time.

TIME Food

Junk Food May Be “Addictive” to Kids

We all know that junk food like pizza, ice cream, and soda is bad for our health, but is it also addicting?

The study of food addiction is an emerging and controversial field. But according to Ashley Gearhardt, a researcher who focuses on food addiction at the University of Michigan and helped establish the guidelines for the Yale Food Addiction Scale, highly processed foods can lead to classic signs of addiction like loss of control, tolerance, and withdrawal. A growing body of research backs her up—and that’s especially concerning in children because an addiction forged in a child’s early years could put the child at more serious risk for chronically unhealthy eating into adulthood.

First Lady Michelle Obama, in a rare overtly political speech on Tuesday, admonished Congressional Republicans for a proposal that would weaken nutritional standards in school lunches, dismantling a policy she has personally fought for. “The stakes couldn’t be higher on this issue,” the First Lady said. She may be right in more ways than one.

Less is known about food addiction in kids than in adults, but some research suggests that kids, like adults, have a relationship with food that looks an awful lot like traditional addiction to alcohol or drugs. A 2011 qualitative study of almost 30,000 people ages 8-21 examined poll responses, chat room transcripts and message board comments from overweight and obese children on a website launched as an overweight intervention tool for teens and preteens. The researchers found that children used classic addiction language when describing their relationship to food, including an inability to cut down, continued use despite negative consequences, and withdrawal symptoms when those foods were not available. The research was published in Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention.

Kids may be even more prone to addiction than adults, says Gearhardt, because their brains haven’t developed impulse control yet. And though the research hasn’t begun on this idea, it isn’t a stretch to posit that early exposure to addicting foods might lead to worse impulse control later in life. Research suggests that teenagers who abuse substances like alcohol and cigarettes are at greater risk for substance abuse later in life. Gearhardt explains: “The more kids are exposed to [junk foods] early in life, the more it is going to set them up for problems. They’re brains are still pretty plastic.”

The best way to keep kids healthy, says Gearhardt, is to eliminate the option to eat junk food all together (yes, that means getting rid of vending machines in schools), rather than simply giving them more access to healthy fruits and vegetables. “No one is binging on broccoli. No one eats strawberries until they throw up. If these kids are so used to eating junk foods, those other foods just can’t compete” she says. “

“If you keep offering more water at a bar, people are still going to drink alcohol.” But unlike a bar, she points out, kids don’t have the option of going elsewhere, making it even more imperative to make school lunch healthy.

 

TIME White House

Michelle Obama Bites Back at Critics of Her Healthy School Lunch Standards

Michelle Obama
First lady Michelle Obama joins a discussion with school leaders and experts surrounding school nutrition at an event Tuesday, May 27, 2014. Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP

In one of the most political speeches she’s given, Michelle Obama accused House Republicans of “playing politics” with “our children’s future”

If Michelle Obama had it her way, House Republicans would currently be in detention.

In one of the most overtly political speeches during her tenure as First Lady, Obama slammed Republicans on Tuesday for trying to weaken school nutritional standards, one of her key policy achievements.

“This is unacceptable,” Obama said at a White House meeting with school leaders and experts. “It’s unacceptable to me not just as First Lady but also as a mother.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher on this issue,” she said, pointing to obesity statistics in both children and adults. “The last thing we can afford to so right now is play politics with our kids health.”

Early in her husband’s first term, Obama took on childhood obesity as one of her priorities, starting an initiative called Let’s Move to promote exercise. But without changes in diet, Obama said Tuesday, one in three children would become obese and one in three would develop diabetes. She became an early backer of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was signed into law in December 2010. The bill moved to strip soda and candy machines from schools and replace pizza and hamburgers with healthier alternatives like salad and fruit bars.

Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee this month said they were weighing language to strip whole grain requirements and competitive food restrictions in their 2015 funding bill. The School Nutrition Association, which represents more than 55,000 school nutritionists across the country, is pushing to weaken the standards. “SNA celebrates every success,” SNA President Leah Schmidt said in a statement Tuesday, “but the Administration’s own data proves that student participation in school lunch is abruptly down in 48 states despite rising school enrollment and 30 years of steady program growth.”

Nearly one million fewer schoolchildren ate school-provided lunches daily between fiscal year 2012 and 2013 in the wake of the healthier standards, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But most school systems saw a slight decrease when the changes were first instituted before a fairly quick rebound, Donna Martin, director of school nutrition at Burke County Public Schools in Georgia, told the White House meeting.

“In the South, do you think taking away fried chicken was going to be easy,” Martin said to laughs around the table. “But we replaced it with baked herb chicken and chips.” Martin said student caloric intake and health improved so much that the football coach credited the new menus for helping his team win the state championship.

Obama nodded in agreement. “We have to be willing to fight the hard fight now,” she said, asking people in the room for ideas about how to help struggling schools rather than allowing them to revert back to junk food and sodas. “Rolling things back is not the answer.”

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser