Michelle Obama talks nutrition and 'wakeup call' moment in her family's past

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Michelle Obama Second TermSeptember is National Childhood Obesity Awareness month -- and few political figures care more about the issue than First Lady Michelle Obama.

The first lady has spent the last six years using the power of the East Wing to help parents and kids get healthy, and in an exclusive Q&A with AOL.com she discusses the health "wakeup call" she and her husband received years ago, talks about how they stay fit today and shares her tips for parents working hard to keep their families healthy.

AOL.com: Childhood obesity rates in the U.S. have recently started to decline after decades of growth. What do you think has changed in America that's driving that shift?

First Lady Michelle Obama: I think we're seeing a new conversation in this country about how we live and eat, and through my Let's Move! initiative, we've been working with leaders from every sector of our society – parents, educators, business leaders, elected officials, faith leaders, athletes and others – to help families make healthier choices.

So many people have stepped up on behalf of our kids: Communities are redesigning public spaces – building bike paths, refurbishing playgrounds, cleaning up public parks – so kids have safe places to play. Food and beverage companies and restaurants are cutting calories from their products and offering healthier kids' menus. Schools and childcare centers are serving more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in their meals and snacks. Faith leaders are educating their congregations about healthy eating.



CHECK OUT MORE SPECIAL COVERAGE: Meet the girl famous for overcoming obesity, who is now a teen athlete

All of these changes have started to add up. But while our progress is promising, we are just beginning to move the needle on this issue. We can't let up for a single minute, or we'll be right back to where we started from.

AOL.com: How do you help make sure your daughters stay fit and healthy? Do you ever exercise with them or do you mostly cheer from the sidelines?

Michelle Obama: My husband and I make physical activity a priority in our lives, and our daughters love being active as well. And while we each have sports and activities we enjoy, we try to go for hikes or bike rides together whenever we get the chance.

We've found that the best way to help our girls be active is to find activities they truly enjoy. That way, being active is fun, and not a chore. For some kids, that may mean getting involved in a sports team at school or in a community league. Others may enjoy taking a walk at a nearby park, creating their own active games, or just turning on their favorite music and dancing in the living room.

See photos of the first lady -- and the rest of the first family -- staying fit:

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Michelle Obama & family being healthy
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Michelle Obama talks nutrition and 'wakeup call' moment in her family's past
First lady Michelle Obama, center, flexes her arms for PBS Sesame Street's characters Elmo, left, and Rosita, right, during an event to help promote fresh fruit and vegetable consumption in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 30, 2013. Sesame Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) joined in Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) in announcing a 2-year agreement to making healthy choices by using the Sesame Street characters to help deliver the messages about fresh fruits and vegetables. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
U.S. first lady Michelle Obama plays with children during a 'Let's Move!' event for about 1,000 American military children and American and British students at the U.S. ambassador's residence in London, ahead of the 2012 Summer Olympics,Friday, July 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
First lady Michelle Obama exercises on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 9, 2011, during an event to promote physical fitness among military families. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
WASHINGTON - APRIL 21: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama flexes her muscles as she exercises with schoolchildren at the River Terrace School April 21, 2010 in Washington, DC. Mrs. Obama visited the school to highlight physical activity as a critical element of the 'Let�s Move!' initiative with several Olympians and Paralympians, including 2010 Olympians Shani Davis and Hannah Kearney and 2010 Paralympians Alana Nichols and Heath Calhoun. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
First lady Michelle Obama is joined by school children as they harvest peanuts in the annual fall harvest of the White House Kitchen Garden at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014. In celebration of Farm to School Month, Obama invited students from Arizona, California, and Ohio to participate in the fall harvest. These schools were selected because they are participating in farm to school programs that incorporate fresh, local food into their school meals, and they teach students about healthy eating through school gardens and nutrition education.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
FILE - In this Feb. 28, 2013 file photo, first lady Michelle Obama exercises with children from Chicago Public Schools, in her hometown of Chicago, as she makes a major announcement helping to bring back physical activity to area schools, while celebrating the third anniversary of her 'Lets Move' program. The decision by President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, to build his presidential library in Chicago scratches one item from their to-do list for life after the White House. Remaining decisions aren’t as pressing as where to build the library and likely will come near the end of his term or after he leaves the building in mid-January 2017. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green, File)
US President Barack Obama plays tennis during the annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House on April 6, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US First Lady Michelle Obama (C) kicks-off the South Lawn Series by exercising with local school children at the White House to promote physical activity and engage children from the DC community in support of her Let�s Move campaign on May 25, 2010 in Washington. AFP PHOTO / Tim Sloan (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)
First lady Michelle Obama dances with students at Alice Deal Middle School in northwest Washington, Tuesday, May 3, 2011, during a surprise visit for the school's Let's Move! event. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
First lady Michelle Obama plays with kids at an event on the South Lawn of the White House, Tuesday, May 25, 2010, in Washington, to kick-off the South Lawn Series. The South Lawn Series are summer activities happening at the White House to promote physical activity and engage children from the DC community in support of Let's Move! (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
First lady Michelle Obama participates in the Let's Move! Campaign and the NFL's Play 60 Campaign festivities with area youth, to promote exercise and fight childhood obesity, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
First lady Michelle Obama talks with with Oneida Gonzalez, front row second from left, 5, and Jefferson Lopez-Martinez, front row second from right, 5, of CentroNia Daycare Center, as they help prepare food harvested from the White House Kitchen Garden along with fellow children from all over the country who participated in events with the "Let’s Move!" campaign, Wednesday, June 3, 2015, in the East Room at the White House in Washington. The "Let's Move!" campaign, started by Michelle Obama seeks to combat the epidemic of childhood obesity and encourage a healthy lifestyle. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2010, file photo, first lady Michelle Obama runs a 40-yard sprint during the Let's Move! Campaign and the NFL's Play 60 Campaign festivities with area youth, to promote exercise and fight childhood obesity, in New Orleans. Recent changes put in place by the food industry are in response to the campaign against childhood obesity that Obama began waging three years ago. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, file)
FILE - In this Aug. 15, 2014, file photo, first lady Michelle Obama, left, bikes rides with President Barack Obama and daughter Malia Obama on the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest bike path outside of West Tisbury, Mass., during the Obama family vacation on the island of Martha's Vineyard. Obama arrived on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard with one daughter, and the other daughter may be at his side when his two-week getaway ends later this month. In a first for Obama family summer vacations, neither teenager is spending the entire time with her father. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
US First Lady Michelle Obama exercises with Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes (R) and others on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington during an event announcing the creation of a program to promote military family wellness on May 9, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Chris KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
First Lady Michelle Obama, accompanied by Darden chef Julie Elkinton, second from right, talks to Charisse McElroy, right, and her daughter Jacqueline McElroy, 9, during a Let’s Move! event in one of Darden’s national restaurants in Hyattsville, Md., Thursday, Sept. 15, 2011. The first lady announced Darden Restaurants’ commitment to reduce its calorie and sodium footprint and to provide greater choice and variety on its children’s menus and make healthy options the default choice whenever possible. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
First lady Michelle Obama plays tennis with kids at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort, Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012, in Orlando, Fla., during her three day national tour celebrating the second anniversary of Let's Move. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
First lady Michelle Obama and a young boy shows off their muscles as they eat healthy snacks during a visit to La Petite Academy in Bowie, Md., Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, to promote healthy environments and encouraging healthy habits at preschools as part of her Let's Move! Child Care program. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
First lady Michelle Obama hugs NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, left, as former NFL head coach Tony Dung looks on at right, after participating in the Let's Move! Campaign and the NFL's Play 60 Campaign festivities with area youth, to promote exercise and fight childhood obesity, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, in New Orleans. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
FILE - In this June 3, 2011, file photo, first lady Michelle Obama tends the White House garden in Washington, with a group of children as part of the "Let's Move!" campaign. Michelle Obama has a new look, both in person and online, and with the president's re-election, she has four more years as first lady, too. The first lady is trying to figure out what comes next for this self-described "mom in chief" who also is a champion of healthier eating, an advocate for military families, a fitness buff and the best-selling author of a book about her White House garden. For certain, she'll press ahead with her well-publicized efforts to reduce childhood obesity and rally the country around its service members. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 25: First Lady Michelle Obama participates in a yoga class during a visit to the Gwen Cherry Park NFL/YET Center as she celebrates the 4th Anniversary of Let's Move on February 25, 2014 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Larry Marano/WireImage)
President Barack Obama does some drills on the basketball court on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington during the White House Easter Egg Roll, Monday, April 6, 2015. Thousands of children gathered at the White House for the annual Easter Egg Roll. This year's event features live music, cooking stations, storytelling, and of course, some Easter egg roll. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Barack Obama joins first lady Michelle Obama, the host of the "Kids State Dinner” in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Friday, July 18, 2014. The White House treated more than 50 kid chefs to a "state dinner." The children earned a seat at the table by whipping up mouth-watering yet healthy meals as part of a nationwide contest sponsored by the food magazine Epicurious and the Education and Agriculture departments. Some of the winning recipes will be served at the dinner hosted by first lady Michelle Obama. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011 file photo, first lady Michelle Obama sings and dances to exercises with staff, parents and children as she visits the Royal Castle Child Development Center, as part of the "Lets Move!" initiative in New Orleans, La. In 18 states, there were at least slight drops in obesity for low-income preschoolers, health officials said Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013. Childhood obesity has been a focus of the Obama White House, with the first lady leading a campaign called "Let's Move!" Sam Kass, the program's chief administrator, said thousands of preschools and day care centers across the country have pledged to increase physical playtime and serve healthier foods. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
First lady Michelle Obama exercises with a hula hoop during a healthy kids fair on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009. (AP Photo/Haraz N. Ghanbari)
US First Lady Michelle Obama exercises with children on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington during an event announcing the creation of a program to promote military family wellness on May 9, 2011. AFP PHOTO/Chris KLEPONIS (Photo credit should read CHRIS KLEPONIS/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 21: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama works with students on preparing healthy meals the South Lawn of the White House during an event promoting exercise and healthy eating for children October 21, 2009 in Washington, DC. The Healthy Kids Fair included events on cooking healthy meals and emphasized children getting a proper amount of outdoor exercise each day. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
First lady Michelle Obama jokes with players during a sports baseball clinic with area youths and members of the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Rays baseball teams, Tuesday, July 20, 2010, at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Obama was taking part in an event with Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, that will team up with the White House in the Let's Move campaign, which promotes exercise and healthy eating for America's youth. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
FILE - This Feb. 27, 2013 file photo shows first lady Michelle Obama and Food Network chef Rachel Ray discussing lunches with students from the Eastside and Northside Elementary Schools in Clinton, Miss. Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules expected to be proposed by the White House and the Agriculture Department Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014, would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools, phasing out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around school campuses and ensuring that other promotions in schools are in line with health standards that apply to school foods. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
First lady Michelle Obama gives a hug at a Miami parks and recreation center during a visit to promote her "Let's Move" campaign Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. The Obama administration is moving to phase out junk food advertising on football scoreboards and elsewhere on school grounds, part of a broad effort to combat child obesity and create what Michelle Obama calls "a new norm" for today's schoolchildren and future generations. Obama announced that the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the National Recreation and Park Association will serve more fruits and vegetables at after-school programs and ensure kids get 30-60 minutes of physical activity a day(AP Photo/Joel Auerbach)
US President Barack Obama does pushups during backetball shooting drills during the annual Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn of the White House April 9, 2012 in Washington, DC. The First Family participated in the yearly event where the South Lawn is opened up to guests to participate in various egg rolls and other activities. AFP PHOTO/Brendan SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 21: U.S. first lady Michelle Obama hula hoops on the South Lawn of the White House during an event promoting exercise and healthy eating for children October 21, 2009 in Washington, DC. The Healthy Kids Fair included events on cooking healthy meals and emphasized children getting a proper amount of outdoor exercise each day. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
First lady Michelle Obama joins exercises with pupils at Orr Elementary in Washington, Friday, Sept. 6, 2013, during a visit for a back to school event highlighting healthy changes happening in schools and across the country. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
First lady Michelle Obama visits CentroNia, a bilingual child care facility in Washington, Wednesday, June 8, 2011, where she announced Let's Move! Child Care, an effort to raise healthy eating and living for young children. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
President Barack Obama, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, speaks at the second annual White House "Kids' State Dinner" in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, July 9, 2013. Mrs. Obama welcomed 54 children to the White House for creating winning recipes as part of a healthy lunch contest. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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AOL.com: We hear your husband loves broccoli, but have your daughters been blessed with a natural taste for good-for-you vegetables too? How can parents encourage kids to eat well if they don't like so-called "healthy" food?

Michelle Obama: When our girls were young, Barack and I struggled to juggle the demands of our jobs with the needs of our family, and we didn't always take the time to prepare healthy meals. It got to the point where our pediatrician pulled me aside and recommended that we make some changes in how we were eating.

That was a real wakeup call for us, and we immediately started eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water, watching our portions, and eating less take-out. This wasn't always easy, and there was some occasional grumbling as we adjusted to a new way of eating. But we found that eating meals together as a family was hugely helpful because Barack and I could set an example by modeling healthy eating for our girls. We also made sure to have healthy snacks – like fruits and vegetables – out on the counter or on an easily-reachable shelf in the fridge. Finally, we found that getting our girls involved in preparing meals helped get them excited about trying new foods.

SEE MORE: September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and here's why it matters

In the end, it's all about patience and persistence -- you often have to expose a child to a new food numerous times before he or she will begin to like it. So keep trying!

AOL.com: Who are the role models you look up to when it comes to healthy living and parenting?

Michelle Obama: My mother has always been such an important role model for me. Back when my girls were very young, and I was running myself ragged trying to care for them and handle the demands of my career, my mother pulled me aside and told me that if I wasn't there for myself, I wouldn't be able to be there for anyone else. She was absolutely right. To be a good parent, you need to take care of yourself so that you can have the physical and emotional energy to take care of your family. I try to remember that lesson every day, and every day, I thank my lucky stars that my mom lives with us in the White House today!



AOL.com: How would you advise a parent who is concerned about their child's weight strike the delicate balance between encouraging a healthy weight and a healthy body image?

Michelle Obama: Being healthy isn't about inches, pounds, or how kids look -- it's about how they feel and making sure they feel good about themselves. So rather than focusing on appearance, it's important to emphasize to kids that when we eat healthy food and stay active, we feel better, and we can perform better in everything we do, from athletics to academics. It also helps to get kids involved in meal planning and preparation, create games out of trying new foods, and provide ample opportunities for physical activity, recognizing it may take some time to find an activity they truly enjoy.

For more ideas and resources on eating healthy and being active, visit www.letsmove.gov and follow us on social media: More special coverage on AOL.com:
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