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.”

TIME College

12 Inspiring Graduation Speeches by Amazing Women

Inspirational moments from Sheryl Sandberg, J.K. Rowling, Oprah, Meryl Streep, Ellen DeGeneres and more.

Let’s face it, ten years out, many of us can’t remember who spoke at our graduation ceremonies, never mind repeat what they said. But every year there’s a small batch of gems–speeches by a celebrity or CEO that fuse together equal parts wit, wisdom, nostalgia and meaning. Many of these are by women. In fact, the commencement address has become a particularly powerful platform for accomplished women. In the coming weeks, big names like Scandal showrunner Shonda Rhimes and General Motors CEO Mary Barra will ascend podiums around the country. In the meantime, here are some of our favorite graduation moments from the last few years.

Julie Andrews at University of Colorado Boulder (2013): “Use your knowledge and your heart to stand up for those who can’t stand. Speak for those who can’t speak. Be a beacon of light, for those whose lives have become dark. Fight the good fight against global warming. Be a part of all that is good and decent. Be an ambassador for the kind of world you want to live in”

Ellen DeGeneres at Tulane University (2009): “Never follow anyone else’s path, unless you’re in the woods and you’re lost and you see a path and by all means you should follow that. Don’t give advice, it will come back and bite you in the ass. Don’t take anyone’s advice. So my advice to you is to be true to yourself and everything will be fine.”

Toni Morrison at Rutgers University (2011): “But I tell you, no generation, least of all mine, has a complete grip on the imagination and goals of subsequent generations; not if you refuse to let it be so. You don’t have to accept media or even scholarly labels for yourself: Generation A, B, C, X, Y, [majority], minority, red state, blue state; this social past or that one. Every true heroine breaks free from his or her class—upper, middle, and lower—in order to serve a wider world.”

Barbara Kingsolver at Duke University (2008): “If somebody says ‘your money or your life,’ you could say, ‘life,’ and mean it. You’ll see things collapse in your time, the big houses, the empires of glass. The new green things that sprout up through the wreck — those will be yours.”

Michelle Obama at Eastern Kentucky University (2013): “If you’re a Democrat, spend some time talking to a Republican. And if you’re a Republican, have a chat with a Democrat. Maybe you’ll find some common ground, maybe you won’t. But if you honestly engage with an open mind and an open heart, I guarantee you’ll learn something. And goodness knows we need more of that, because we know what happens when we only talk to people who think like we do — we just get more stuck in our ways, more divided, and it gets harder to come together for a common purpose. “

Amy Poehler at Harvard Class Day (2011): “As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.”

J.K. Rowling at Harvard (2008): “So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Sheryl Sandberg at Barnard College (2011): “We will never close the achievement gap until we close the ambition gap. But if all young women start to lean in, we can close the ambition gap right here, right now, if every single one of you leans in. Leadership belongs to those who take it. Leadership starts with you.”

Maria Shriver at USC Annenberg School of Communication (2012): “I hope if you learn anything from me today, you learn and remember — the power of the pause. Pausing allows you to take a beat — to take a breath in your life. As everybody else is rushing around like a lunatic out there, I dare you to do the opposite.”

Meryl Streep at Barnard (2010): “This is your time and it feels normal to you but really there is no normal. There’s only change, and resistance to it and then more change.”

Kerry Washington at George Washington University (2013): ““When you leave here today and commence the next stage of your life, you can follow someone else’s script, try to make choices that will make other people happy, avoid discomfort, do what is expected, and copy the status quo. Or you can look at all that you have accomplished today and use it as fuel to venture forth and write your own story. If you do, amazing things will take shape.”

Oprah Winfrey at Spelman University (2012): “You must have some vision for your life. Even if you don’t know the plan, you have to have a direction in which you choose to go,”

 

TIME Arts

Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama Deliver a Special Passive-Aggressive Mother’s Day Address On SNL

The bitterness is directed not toward their moms, but toward each other

To kick off Saturday night’s episode of Saturday Night Live, Michelle Obama (played by Sasheer Zamata) and Hillary Clinton (played by Vanessa Bayer) came together to deliver a Mother’s Day message.

“You know, both of us have been called so many things,” Clinton says. “It’s nice to have one day where the first thing that we’re called is mom.”

The women seem to be in good spirits, but soon their address devolves into a sort of tense proxy war of quietly calculated insults.

“What Barack and I are really proud of are giving the gift of health care to 8 million Americans,” Obama says. “You know, which is funny, because I tried to give them that gift 16 years ago, so it’s more like a regift,” Clinton responds, prompting Obama to shoot back, “But we actually delivered it.”

They continue their address by acknowledging the challenges of being a working mother. Clinton, however, thinks she knows just a bit more about this, since she spent years crisscrossing the globe dealing with humanitarian crises. “You know, but I suppose it’s also tough to make a chubby kid eat an apple.”

TIME Parenting

The Best (and Worst) Advice From Famous Moms

In honor of Mother’s Day, we’ve rounded up some of the of the most thoughtful — and sometimes not so thoughtful — advice from moms who don’t hesitate to make their feelings known.

Beyoncé

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets - Game Six
Elsa—Getty Images

The singer, who became a mother almost two and a half years ago, shared advice in Out Magazine on how to be powerful as a woman by embracing many identities at once.

“There is unbelievable power in ownership, and women should own their sexuality. There is a double standard when it comes to sexuality that still persists. Men are free and women are not. That is crazy. The old lessons of submissiveness and fragility made us victims. Women are so much more than that. You can be a businesswoman, a mother, an artist, and a feminist—whatever you want to be—and still be a sexual being. It’s not mutually exclusive.”

Kristin Cavallari

Kristin Cavallari Visits "FOX & Friends"
Jamie McCarthy—Getty Images

Following in the footsteps of Jenny McCarthy, former reality TV star Kristin Cavallari admitted to not vaccinating her son during an interview on Fox & Friends during which she urged mothers to think of vaccination as a personal choice

Listen, to each their own. I understand both sides of it. I’ve ready too many books about autism and there’s some scary statistics out there. It’s our personal choice, and, you know, if you’re really concerned about your kid get them vaccinated.”

Hillary Clinton

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in A No Ceilings Conversation at Lower Eastside Girls Club  in New York
Andrew Kelly—Reuters

The former secretary of state shared some of her wisdom at the opening of the Women of the World Conference in New York in April, talking about the double standard for women and advice for how they can get ahead.

Too many young women are harder on themselves than circumstances warrant. They are too often selling themselves short. They too often take criticism personally instead of seriously. You should take criticism seriously because you might learn something, but you can’t let it crush you. You have to be resilient to keep moving forward despite whatever the personal setbacks and even insults that come your way might be. That takes a sense of humor about yourself and others, believe me this hard-won advice. But it is a process. You need other women, you need your friends to support you, and you need male friends as well as female ones. You need good role models all of that is true. But at the end of the day, you really have to be good if you have high aspirations. You need to be well-educated, prepared, and willing to take your chances when they come your way. Cut yourself a little bit of slack.”

Angelina Jolie

86th Annual Academy Awards - People Magazine Press Room
Jason LaVeris—WireImage/Getty Images

The Maleficent actress has become an outspoken advocate for all the rights and health of all women, especially in the wake of her preventative double mastectomy last year. She’s also a mom of six who spoke to Entertainment Weekly earlier this year about how motherhood has changed her life.

“It changes you forever. It changes your perspective and it gives you a nice purpose and focus. I am disheartened by many things but I wake up, like I woke up this morning, to kids and we talk and we laugh and we play and I’m light again, and I’m a kid again, and I’m loving and soft again because they’ve brought that back in my life.”

Michelle Obama

US-POLITICS-OBAMA-HEALTH CARE-MOTHERS
Jim Watson—AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this year, shortly after Justin Bieber was arrested on drunk driving charges and authorities claimed his private jet reeked of marijuana, First Lady Michelle Obama talked about what she would do if she were the singer’s mother during an interview with Univision Radio host Enrique Santos. The mother of two (Sasha, 12, and Malia, 15) reminded listeners that Beiber’s just a kid despite his larger than life role as an entertainer.

“They just want you near, you know – they want that advice from a parent. They want to see you on a daily basis, because the thing is he’s still a kid. He’s still growing up. So, I would pull him close.”

Gwyneth Paltrow

Goldene Kamera 2014 - Red Carpet Arrivals
Luca Teuchmann—WireImage/Getty Images

The queen of healthy living can’t seem to avoid controversy this year, especially after she unwittingly stirred up another round in the mommy wars by commenting on how difficult it is for her as a working actress on a movie set versus a regular mom with a nine to five job. But with a recent statement on her lifestyle site, Goop, she attempted to smooth some ruffled mommy feathers.

“Is it not hard enough to attempt to raise children thoughtfully, while contributing something, or bringing home some (or more) of the bacon? Why do we feel so entitled to opine, often so negatively, on the choices of other women? Perhaps because there is so much pressure to do it all, and do it all well all at the same time (impossible).”

Susan Patton (Princeton Mom)

Today - Season 63
NBC/Getty Images

The viral sensation sparked conversation online after a Valentine’s Day-themed editorial in the Wall Street Journal encouraged women to start looking for a husband instead of focusing on their career.

“You should be spending far more time planning for your husband than for your career—and you should start doing so much sooner than you think. This is especially the case if you are a woman with exceptionally good academic credentials, aiming for corporate stardom.”

Jada Pinkett-Smith

2014 Vanity Fair Oscar Party Hosted By Graydon Carter - Arrivals
David Livingston—Getty Images

This actress has never hesitated to talk about how much faith she has in her kids. After people criticized her for allowing her daugther Willow to cut her hair, she spoke out on her Facebook page about the decision-making process.

“The question why I would LET Willow cut her hair. First the LET must be challenged. This is a world where women,girls are constantly reminded that they don’t belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self determination. I made a promise to endow my little girl with the power to always know that her body, spirit and her mind are HER domain.”

Sheryl Sandberg

The Davos World Economic Forum 2014
Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg/Getty Images

The Facebook COO might be best known for her “Lean In,” career manifesto for young women, but she’s also also shared advice about motherhood during an interview with NPR last March.

“I want everyone to be able to choose, but I want us to be able to choose unencumbered by gender choosing for us. I have a 7-year-old son and a 5-year-old daughter. Success for me is that if my son chooses to be a stay-at-home parent, he is cheered on for that decision. And if my daughter chooses to work outside the home and is successful, she is cheered on and supported.”

Jessica Simpson

11th Annual John Varvatos Stuart House Benefit - Arrivals
Tommaso Boddi—WireImage/Getty Images

The actress, fashion mogul and mother of two, has been very public about her pregnancies and post-baby weight loss campaign with Weight Watchers. And she continues to showcase her early years of motherhood through social media, regularly posting to Instagram with captions like: “Falling asleep looking at pictures of my kids…now I know what my life is about. I am so grateful.” But her gratefulness doesn’t come without the nerves of a new mom, as she told People during her second pregnancy, “There are little things that you kind of obsess over. I never knew how protective I was until I had my own child. I’m already thinking about intruders coming into the house and what our escape route would be.”

Tina Fey

Celebrities Visit "Late Show With David Letterman" - August 21, 2013
Jeffrey Ufberg—WireImage/Getty Images

To no one’s surprise, comedienne Tina Fey mixed humor into her honesty about motherhood. She told David Letterman that though it was great to be home with her kids more, “you’re just like a human napkin for your kids, like, they just wipe their face on you and stuff.” And she’s learned to take even the difficult moments of motherhood with a grain of salt, considering when her youngest daughter was two, she tried to choke Fey after being upset about bath time being over. “It’s so funny because they’re not strong enough to kill you and they want to kill you so bad!”

Kim Kardashian

"Charles James: Beyond Fashion" Costume Institute Gala - Arrivals
Larry Busacca—Getty Images

Keeping up with motherhood is no small feat for the queen of the Kardashian Klan. Her daughter, aptly named North, with rapper Kanye West, gave the reality star a new take on racism, she explained on her blog. “To be honest, before I had North, I never really gave racism or discrimination a lot of thought. It is obviously a topic that Kanye is passionate about, but I guess it was easier for me to believe that it was someone else’s battle. But recently, I’ve read and personally experienced some incidents that have sickened me and made me take notice. I realize that racism and discrimination are still alive, and just as hateful and deadly as they ever have been,” she wrote. “I feel a responsibility as a mother, a public figure, a human being, to do what I can to make sure that not only my child, but all children, don’t have to grow up in a world where they are judged by the color of their skin, or their gender, or their sexual orientation. I want my daughter growing up in a world where love for one another is the most important thing. So the first step I’m taking is to stop pretending like this isn’t my issue or my problem, because it is, it’s everyone’s… because the California teenager who was harassed and killed by his classmates for being gay, the teenage blogger in Pakistan who was shot on her school bus for speaking out in favor of women’s rights, the boy in Florida who was wrongly accused of committing a crime and ultimately killed because of the color of his skin, they are all someone’s son and someone’s daughter and it is our responsibility to give them a voice and speak out for those who can’t and hopefully in the process, ensure that hate is something our children never have to see.”

TIME White House

Michelle Obama on Nigerian Schoolgirls: ‘Barack and I See Our Own Daughters’

First Lady says U.S. is doing "everything possible" to free kidnapped girls.

First Lady Michelle Obama spoke out against the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls last month in the White House’s weekly address marking Mother’s Day.

Delivering the address for the first time without President Barack Obama, the first lady said she and her husband are “outraged and heartbroken” by the kidnappings. “In these girls, Barack and I see our own daughters,” she said. “We see their hopes, their dreams – and we can only imagine the anguish their parents are feeling right now.”

“I want you to know that Barack has directed our government to do everything possible to support the Nigerian government’s efforts to find these girls and bring them home,” she said, as a team of military and intelligence advisors deployed by the administration to assist the Nigerian government began arriving in Abuja.

“This unconscionable act was committed by a terrorist group determined to keep these girls from getting an education—grown men attempting to snuff out the aspirations of young girls,” she said.

Obama tied the kidnappings to a broader struggle to give girls access to the education they deserve, highlighting the plight of 65 million girls who are not attending school across the globe.

“We know that girls who are educated make higher wages, lead healthier lives and have healthier families,” the first lady said. “And when more girls attend secondary school, that boosts their country’s entire economy. So education is truly a girl’s best chance for a bright future, not just for herself, but for her family and her nation.”

“I hope that any young people in America who take school for granted—any young people who are slacking off or thinking of dropping out—I hope they will learn the story of these girls and recommit themselves to their education,” she added.

TIME Nigeria

Celebrities Call for Action With #BringBackOurGirls

Almost a month after more than 250 schoolgirls were abducted by Islamist militant group Boko Haram, a trending hashtag shows the world's outrage

(MORE: #BringBackOurGirls: Hashtag Activism Is Cheap–And That’s a Good Thing)

TIME Healthcare

Obama Hosts Obamacare Enrollment Party

Champagne, but no selfies, for those who helped 8 million Americans enroll in the Affordable Care Act

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama feted about 300 people at the White House on Thursday to celebrate the close of the Affordable Care Act’s maiden enrollment period.

Despite a rocky rollout, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday that 8,019,763 people selected health-insurance plans through the marketplaces created under the law through the middle of April, exceeding projections.

The Obamas cracked open the champagne for allies and advocates who helped defend the law against Republican attacks and led a nationwide campaign to get Americans enrolled in the marketplace plans.

Among the attendees were labor leaders, Democratic operatives and health care activists, as well as celebrities who helped the Administration promote the law, including University of North Carolina men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, former NFL player Eddie George, Friday Night Lights and Nashville star Connie Britton, University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, and actor and former White House official Kal Penn.

According to attendees, the President highlighted the success of the initial enrollment period, but said more work needed to be done — both when enrollment reopens later this year and in states that have not accepted federal dollars to expand Medicaid. Obama gave a special shout-out to the “tech team,” which fixed the troubled HealthCare.gov website that threatened to derail the enrollment process. He was followed by the First Lady, who expressed how proud she was of her husband for pushing the health care law through even when it was politically inexpedient.

Attendees said Obama got “pretty emotional” as his wife retold stories of those who have been helped by the law.

After the Obamas spoke, they worked the room greeting attendees, but as the President warned the crowd: “We don’t have time for selfies with everyone.”

Here’s a readout of the event from a White House official:

The White House Office of Public Engagement hosted an event this afternoon with stakeholders and Administration officials who helped with the outreach and enrollment around the Affordable Care Act to thank them for their efforts.

The President and First Lady attended, along with Senior White House Officials, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary Anthony Foxx, and Secretary Tom Perez. Guests included the broad and diverse group of stakeholders who helped to enroll Americans in quality affordable health plans, and get information out about their health care options, including consumer groups, techies, pharmacies, hospitals, athletes, celebrities, local elected officials and community leaders.

The President thanked attendees for the tremendous work they did to help 8 million people sign up for private health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act Market Places. He emphasized that this represents a major step forward for this country and that the real impact is playing out in the lives of men, women, and children all across this country who now have access to health care – many for the first time.

The President also reminded the attendees that, thanks to their tireless efforts, in last six weeks leading up to the March 31st deadline, 300 radio interviews blanketed the airwaves in key markets. Over five-thousand events were held in key communities across the country. About 350 million followers were reached through social media channels, and there were over 33 million views of videos encouraging enrollment between content produced the White House videos, YouTube personalities, Funny or Die, and College Humor.

In addition to the 8 million who enrolled in private plans, over 4.8 million more people have been covered by states through Medicaid and CHIP programs and around 3 million more Americans under 26 are covered under their parents’ plans. And because of the ACA, 100 million Americans have gained free preventive care, like mammograms and contraceptive care, under their existing plans. Nearly 8 million seniors have saved almost $10 billion on their medicine. And a whole lot of families will have the security of health care, because the Affordable Care Act prevents insurers from placing dollar limits on the coverage they provide.

TIME Economy

Girl Hands Michelle Obama Her Dad’s Resume During Q&A

The first lady was spending time with the children of executive branch employees at the White House's Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day

Michelle Obama was reportedly “taken aback” when a 10-year-old girl handed the first lady her father’s resume Thursday during a question and answer session with children.

“My dad’s been out of a job for three years and I wanted to give you his resume,” the girl seated in the front row said as she handed Obama a folded piece of paper. Obama hugged the girl and told the others gathered, some of whom may not have heard the exchange, that the matter was “a little private” but the girl was “doing something for her dad.”

Michelle Obama was spending time with the children of executive branch employees on Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day at the White House, the Associated Press reports.

 

TIME Television

Parks and Recreation Watch: Go Big and Stay Home

Parks and Recreation
Steve Jennings/NBC

A stellar season finale puts Leslie and company on a new frontier, while reminding us that the best things don't last forever.

Spoilers from last night’s Parks and Recreation follow:

“Moving Up,” the season finale of Parks and Recreation, was not the first episode the show has made that’s felt like a goodbye. Some of the reasons for that lie offscreen: Parks has never had blockbuster ratings, so it’s had to make season finales, and even midseason finales, that could have worked as series finales if it came to that, and it had to build its story arcs toward those endings. And this season, the show wrote off Ann and Chris in an episode that took stock of how the characters came together and where they’d gone.

But there’s also a thematic reason for it: at heart, for all its good cheer, absurd Midwestern humor, friendship, and bureaucratic satire, Parks and Rec is a show about saying goodbye. Since the show got past its early growing pains and established Leslie Knope as a capable, ambitious civil servant, it’s had baked into it the knowledge that, as fiercely as she loves Pawnee and its waffles, she is going places–eventually, other places. She’s lived by the motto “Go big or go home,” but she knows at some level that going big will someday mean leaving home.

That’s part of the emotional power of this show, a bittersweetness built into even its funniest story arcs. It’s about the universal feeling of knowing that the most special times of your life will end, even as you’re in the middle of them–and knowing that, even if it’s sad, it’s also necessary. You’ll graduate school and leave your friends. Your kids will grow up and move away from home. Everything sweet has an expiration date (with the possible exception of products manufactured by Sweetums).

I am making “Moving Up” sound like a bummer. It was not! (The Cones of Dunshire sequence alone made me laugh harder than anything this season to date.) Because it wasn’t, after all, the series finale, “Moving Up” pushed off the big goodbye, for now. “I can have everything I want!” shouted Leslie, as she hit on the inspiration to move a sizable federal government office from Chicago to Pawnee (hey, it’s TV), and in a way, this episode was Parks‘ way of having everything it wanted. It recognized that it couldn’t keep Leslie and the Parks Dept. gang together any longer in the same scenario, playing on the same field and hitting the same beats, but it kept them together in a way that, excitingly, means that the seventh (and probably final) season will be a very different thing.

Between Leslie and Ben’s visit to San Francisco and the audacious time-jump, “Moving Up” echoed the third-season “Harvest Festival” (possibly the high point of the entire series), capturing the Simpsons-like worldbuilding that the show has done in a grand, warm, spectacle. But three seasons later, it was bigger. Did I mention Michelle Obama was in the episode? Michelle Obama was in the episode! (Though, true to the spirit of Leslie’s character, she was even more starstruck by meeting her childhood idol, West region National Park Service honcho Rebecca Veruvian.)

The episode played literally on a grander stage–I would not have pegged Pawnee folks for Decemberists fans, but who knows, maybe they’re more of an Eagleton thing–and was this time jammed with celebrity cameos, but there was the same sense of the broad sweep of the Pawnee community. The celebration had more of a sense, though, of being one last fling: the star-studded Li’l Sebastian anthem also showed how Andy had grown since his flailing Mouse Rat days, the unmasking of Duke Silver[!] was the sort of move reserved for a series’ final days. It felt like goodbye.

And then suddenly–for now–it wasn’t. Moving the story ahead three years may or may not work in the long run, but it was an ingenious decision to avoid the pitfalls of keeping the status quo for another season. It will let Mike Schur and company-to the extent they want to–make Parks and Rec into something of a sequel to itself. By moving Leslie into the National Park Service, the show can play on a more national stage rather than revisit the foibles of Pawnee and its demanding citizenry. (Now the entire Midwest can complain to Leslie!)

It will hopefully give characters like Tom the room to show growth instead of repeating themselves. It lets us skip over pregnancy storylines and the babies’ infancy (take it from a parent: nothing more boring). It allows the chance to expand the show’s world even further, a prospect hinted at by the brief appearance of Jon Hamm as the most incompetent underling–“And that includes Terry!”–whose three-year tenure we just missed. And it offers the intriguing chance to move problem-solver Leslie from being a counterpoint to our contentious political present to being a player in an alternative near-future. (It will also, presumably, have to gloss over the question of whether Leslie’s icon Hillary Clinton is now President come 2017. And barring flashbacks, I guess we’ve seen our last present-day Washington cameo. Sorry, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell!)

The decision could be invigorating; it could be the equivalent of late-season sitcom fiascoes like having Roseanne win the lottery. But either way, the series finale that wasn’t, in a way, actually was. The Parks and Recreation that we watched for six seasons has finished its run. “Moving Up” was a delightful capper to the sixth season. It also started to prepare us for the episode when Leslie and Ben and Pawnee and all of us will be moving on.

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