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

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
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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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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