NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A group of New Jersey school children received a pep talk on healthy eating and exercise Thursday from first lady Michelle Obama, who assured them she is putting her own advice into practice at the White House.
"We've sworn off the elevator at our home," she said. "We walk up the stairs. The kids don't like it, but they do it."
Mrs. Obama visited the Maple Avenue School to talk with students about how eating better and exercising more can improve their lives. The event was part of her "Let's Move" initiative against childhood obesity. She met with some students individually and then addressed a school assembly.
Childhood obesity rates have tripled over the past three decades, and obesity-related health care costs are about $147 billion per year, according to the White House.
"Let's Move" seeks to attack the problem by educating children and parents about healthy eating choices through advertising, food labeling and serving healthier food in schools.
Maple Avenue students have started several programs including exercise and dance classes, partnering with local farmers markets to give parents and children more healthy options and rewarding students for making informed nutritional choices.
Some habits will always be hard to break, however.
"I know some kids who eat at McDonald's almost every day," seventh-grader Evan Thomas said Thursday, adding, "I don't go that much anymore."
Mrs. Obama entered the school's auditorium to a chorus of screams from the third- through eighth-graders. After her speech, she exchanged hugs and handshakes with many of them as a sound system blared Aretha Franklin's "Respect" and the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back."
Newark Mayor Cory Booker, a national co-chair of "Let's Move," called Mrs. Obama "a chief provocateur in one of the most critical issues facing our nation." She praised Booker's efforts in Newark and told students they can start small and still make a difference.
"You can do it just by setting an example," she said. "You don't have to change the whole world at once; you can change the person who sits next to you in class."
Sihomara Ramos, 10, was star-struck with the rest of her classmates at the appearance of the first lady and her entourage.
"It's amazing," she said. "It's a small school without that many people, so it makes us feel important. It makes us feel we actually mean something to her."