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Michelle Obama on Sarah Palin, Hillary Clinton: CNN Larry King Transcript

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Interview with First Lady Michelle Obama; Aired Tuesday, February 9 - 9:00pm ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, a prime time exclusive -- Michelle Obama is here, on the day America's first lady confronts a crisis that could be killing our kids -- obesity.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: We've got to provide parents with the information and the tools that they need to make better decisions. But we also need to significantly change the quality of food that kids are getting at school.


KING: She'll let us in on what the cameras don't see.


M. OBAMA: I try to make our home sort of a stress-free, work-free zone.


KING: The toll the presidency is taking on her husband and how she deals privately with public criticism of him.


M. OBAMA: Democracy is about critique and the president is not immune to criticism.


KING: And why she worries about their two daughters.

And then Bill Cosby has got a message about life and -- and maybe his own death and turning our children from food addicts into fitness fanatics.


It is a delight to welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE -- a return visit -- now she is the first of the United States, Michelle Obama. The last time she was -- well, you weren't even a candidate. You were...

M. OBAMA: I wasn't. I was just hanging out and... KING: How do you -- do you like the job?

M. OBAMA: I really do. I'm enjoying myself.

KING: It's not paid.

M. OBAMA: It -- it isn't, but it's paid in so many ways other than money. You know, I -- I get to do what -- you know, we talked about this when I was here before. When you like people, having a job where you get to interact with folks on a day-to-day basis and you get to do things that make a difference -- and, you know, I still control my own schedule to -- to some extent.

So it's not a bad gig.


KING: All right. What -- this -- the childhood obesity thing, why -- why is this your priority?

M. OBAMA: Yes, well, you know, in the first year, I -- I focused on a number of things that I will continue to focus on -- support for military spouses; national service, which is something I've already -- always cared about. But as you know, this year I planted this wonderful garden...

KING: Yes.

M. OBAMA: -- the first ever White House garden. And that was to begin the conversation about nutrition. And we engaged local kids in the D.C. area in that effort and got a feel for how they react a more substantive conversation.

But on a personal note, you know, I come to this issue as -- as a mother. You know, before coming to the White House, especially when my husband was on the campaign trail, we were living the lives of average families -- way too busy, rushing...

KING: Fast food.

M. OBAMA: Fast food, you know, deserts too much, probably not monitoring TV. I was fortunate enough to have a pediatrician who worked in an urban environment in the African-American community. And he was tracking BMI. And he saw a little up tick in the kids' BMI and he kind of pulled me aside.

KING: BMI means?

M. OBAMA: Body mass index, which is, you know, a measure of sort of where people fall on -- on the weight scale. It's one of the first indicators of...

KING: And it was getting alarming?

M. OBAMA: It was getting to the point where he raised a red flag. And he probably was more cautious than -- than most people, because of what he had been seeing in his own practice.

KING: How did you react?

M. OBAMA: You know, I was shocked at first, because I didn't -- I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do. And I hadn't noticed any changes in my -- my kids. So it was a little bit shocking and a little disorienting because I -- I wasn't sure what to do.

But I went home and it was kind of a wake-up call. And we made some changes, even with busy schedules. And they were minor changes, but I thought, well, we have to do something, so.

KING: But did the kids go for it?

M. OBAMA: You know, they did. And that was the...

KING: They went to broccoli from French fries?

M. OBAMA: You know, because -- well, it was portion sizes. It was a few more cooked meals. You know, we had no absolutes except no deserts during the week. Took -- took sugary drinks out of the lunch -- lunch boxes and put in water and had more milk, had more fresh squeezed juices, things like that.

We talked about processed foods and -- you know, so they caught on pretty quickly once, you know, they understood the point of it all. And they became stricter monitors in our household than either me or their father, so.

KING: You put the kids in the army.

M. OBAMA: The -- right. That's right.

KING: How do you react -- there were some who criticize, not many, but some who criticized you for personalizing it -- discussing it about your children.

M. OBAMA: I -- that's the only way I can describe it, because that's how I relate to it. And I know that if struggled with it in that way, you know, a person with means and information and access to, you know, everything that I needed, then what on earth is going on in families and communities around the nation where people don't have the information?

So I thought -- I thought it was important to share not just my story, but the success. And the point is that small changes made a difference. It wasn't a whole scale upheaval of our lives to see the outcomes.

KING: I don't want to get too statistical at the beginning tonight. We're going to cover other bases.

M. OBAMA: Yes.

KING: But according to a 2007 "New England Journal of Medicine," the number of overweight children ages 6 to 19 has tripled in the last 30 years -- 40 years. Twenty-five million kids are considered obese or overweight. That is a crisis.

M. OBAMA: One in three kids. And it's one in two for the African- American and Hispanic community.

KING: Does that lead, then, to adult diabetes, heart trouble?

M. OBAMA: Well, we're already seeing -- you talk to the American Academy of Pediatrics, because they're on board with this initiative. And they're seeing high cholesterol in young kids, high blood pressure, asthma that is preventable...

KING: Asthma?

M. OBAMA: -- and Type 2 Diabetes, which is the most sort of troubling, because Type 2 Diabetes was only an adult disease and now it's -- it's becoming more prevalent among kids.

So, you know, one thing that I -- I try to emphasize is that this isn't about weight and it's not about looks. It's not -- it's not a physical issue. It's really about the quality of life of our kids. Because, you know, teachers are seeing, you know, the challenges that kids with weight issues are having -- not being able to participate in gym, feeling a little more sluggish. This is a quality of life issue. And it's not about weight and diet. It's about fitness and it's about overall nutrition that we really have to be emphasizing here.

KING: Do you really think you can make a headway?

M. OBAMA: You know...

KING: You've got a task force formed today, right?

M. OBAMA: Absolutely. The president signed the first ever federal memorandum that establishes a federal task force on childhood obesity.

So do I think I can make some inroads?

KING: Yes.

M. OBAMA: I think that working with the rest of the country, with parents and business leaders and industry leaders and entertainment and sports leagues and parents and doctors and everyone, yes, I think that we can -- can make a difference.

KING: Now how do you handle it -- kids don't want to be told, you're overweight.

M. OBAMA: That's right.

KING: Certainly you don't want to say, you're fat.

M. OBAMA: Right. That's right.

KING: Isn't this is delicate?

M. OBAMA: It's an... KING: This is a delicate balance.

M. OBAMA: It's an absolute -- I -- with my kids -- again, all I -- I have is my story -- is I never talked about weight. I never discussed what the doctor said. I said, you know what, we need to change how we eat and let's think of some ways we can do it.

So you can have these conversations without having the conversation. And I think it's very important that we don't unintentionally make kids more paranoid or more self-conscious. At the same time, I think that it's not useful to point fingers at anyone, at kids or parents.

KING: Do you still drop into Burger King or McDonald's?

M. OBAMA: We don't do as much fast food, but I -- we eat burgers and fries when -- when...

KING: You can't eliminate it, though.

M. OBAMA: And you don't have to. I mean, that's really the point here. It's really balance. What I tell my kids is if they're eating right, you know, 70 percent of the time, then when they go to a birthday party or it's a Saturday and they're out and, you know, they can stop for ice cream and somebody wants to grab pizza or they have pancakes with chocolate chips in it, it's not a big deal.

Because that's how kids live...

KING: Of course.

M. OBAMA: -- and that's how, you know, they -- they wouldn't go for it if it were absolutes. And I think that's one of the messages for parents.

KING: But not daily.

M. OBAMA: Not -- well, not -- you know, not daily and not every meal every day, you know?

KING: According to "CNN Fact Check," the cost of obesity is as high as

$147 billion annually.

We'll be back with the first lady right after this.



BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By the way, I want to acknowledge our first lady, Michelle Obama, who this year is creating a national movement to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity and make kids healthier. Thank you.


M. OBAMA: It's a -- it's a nice shout out.


KING: We have an iReport question for you...

M. OBAMA: Yes.

KING: -- that's sent in by a viewer.

Let's watch.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can a healthy, five component lunch be provided for just $0.90 food cost?

How can we make children's health a true priority with the funding to back it up?

Thank you.


M. OBAMA: Well, that's one of the components of the Let's Move initiative, which is the nationwide initiative that we kicked off today. We've got to provide parents with the information and the tools that they need to make better decisions.

But we also need to significantly change the quality of food that kids are getting at school, because more than 30 million kids get half of their daily calories from the foods that they eat in school. And we don't want to set up a situation where we've got parents doing all the right things at home and then all that stuff gets undone.

So the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act is -- is -- is in -- in line for discussion this year. We're proposing a $10 billion increase -- that's $1 billion a year for 10 years -- to really implement this legislation.

And we need to focus on the quality of schools in the lunches. I mean it's one thing when you pack your own lunch. But so many families rely on what they're being served in schools that...

KING: You would think schools would be hip to things that...

M. OBAMA: Yes. Well and many are. The -- the Department of Agriculture has an initiative called the U.S. Healthy Schools Challenge, where it recognizes schools that are already makings these differences. And there...

KING: What do you...

M. OBAMA: -- are hundreds of them. KING: I want to touch some other bases then come back to this.

M. OBAMA: Sure.

KING: The loss of Ted Kennedy.

M. OBAMA: Um-hmm.

KING: You went to the funeral, didn't you?

M. OBAMA: Oh, yes. Yes.

KING: And then the loss of the Senate seat.

How has that affected your husband?

And do you think this whole question of -- of the health bill...

M. OBAMA: Well, we were all saddened by the loss of -- of Senator Kennedy. He was the consummate statesman. He was the grandfather of so much important legislation. And attending the funeral reminded us just the extent of the -- the impact that he's had on the lives of all of us, not just here in this country, but around the world.

So it was a -- a deep loss. But you know, we -- we have an opportunity to continue that legacy and -- and we have to.

KING: Do you think you will?

Do you think you'll get a health bill?

M. OBAMA: I think we don't have a choice. When we look at these statistics, we're spending billions of dollars on preventable diseases. And new health care legislation could go a long way to improving prevention, first and foremost. Health care reform -- people have to have a pediatrician in order to get good information from their pediatricians. People have to be able to take their kids to well doctor's visits to have all this information tracked.

So we have to get this done. And I'm hopeful that Congress will come together, that the American people will recognize that doing nothing is absolutely not an option and that we'll fulfill this legacy.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on February 9, 2010 11:41 PM.

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