ATLANTA — First lady Michelle Obama took her 1-year-old campaign against childhood obesity to the South on Wednesday, munching on blueberries with youngsters at an elementary school and later taking her pep talk on healthy eating to parents.
The first lady visited the Burgess-Peterson Academy in Atlanta, touting that public school's efforts to improve student nutrition and fitness as she marked the first anniversary of her "Let's Move!" campaign. She snacked on some blueberries with a second-grade class and checked out the school's garden with first-graders.
"We're going to need you to be big and strong because we need you to grow up and do important things," Obama told the excited pupils, reminding them to eat lots of fruits and veggies.
She confided in the class that President Barack Obama likes to snack on figs.
Mrs. Obama is working to combat what many health experts are calling a national epidemic of obesity, particularly in children – one in three U.S. children are overweight or obese. The experts say obesity puts children at a greater risk for diabetes, high blood pressure and other medical conditions.
In the past year, Obama has taken her campaign before school groups, food makers and others, urging them to build more bike paths and playgrounds and to serve healthier school lunches. She has even held an exercise class with children on the White House lawn and toured school gardens modeled after her famous Pennsylvania Avenue patch.
Later Wednesday, the first lady declared that the campaign was making a difference as she addressed parents and community members at the North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, a north Atlanta suburb.
So far, beverage and food makers and most recently Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the country's largest retailer, have promised to reduce salt, fat and sugar in their products. A new child nutrition law also puts Washington in charge of deciding what kinds of foods are sold during the school day.
"For parents like us, this isn't just a public health threat," she said. "This is personal. This stuff is emotional. It's the kind of thing that keeps us lying awake at night, because all of us want to keep our kids healthy."
She pointed to alarming data that 27 percent of 17- to 24-year-olds are too overweight to serve in the military, a sign of a generation that grew up with fewer gym classes in school and fast food on nearly every corner.
She urged parents to push children to eat better, exercise more and spend more time outdoors. "We're not just doing this for our kids today – we're doing this for their children and their grandchildren," Mrs. Obama said.
Earlier Wednesday, Mrs. Obama appeared on NBC's "Today" show and "Live! With Regis and Kelly," before heading to Atlanta. She also has unveiled a series of public service announcements to further spread the word about "Let's Move!"
At Burgess-Peterson, where wellness and physical education teacher Betty Jackson created a garden three years ago, all 240 students start each morning with a "jammin' minute" of exercise followed by a healthy eating tip. Students visit the garden at least once a week, learning how to plant, grow and harvest food.
"We want to teach them how to eat healthier and understand where food comes from," Jackson explained.
The school has a USDA grant that provides fresh fruit and vegetables daily to students. Jackson also tries to order plums, pineapples, avocados and other foods they might not get at home.
Mrs. Obama told the students to eat well, read and study hard if they want to become president. Second-grader Shania Teasley, 7, said she liked the advice, adding "I want to be the president when I grow up."
On Wednesday, the one year anniversary of her anti-obesity campaign "Let's Move!," the first lady spoke one-on-one with NBC Today Show's Matt Lauer about the campaign's progress, her husbands smoking habit and parenting two daughters in the White House.
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