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Michelle Obama wants to cut junk food, sodas from schools

Schoolchildren won't have access to candy nor soda at school beginning this fall as a result of a new health initiative announced Tuesday by the first lady.
A student selects baked potato chips from a vending machine at Commack High School in Commack, N.Y., Sept. 19, 2011.
A student selects baked potato chips from a vending machine at Commack High School in Commack, N.Y., Sept. 19, 2011.

First Lady Michelle Obama wants to remove all junk food and soft drinks -- and corresponding advertisements -- from U.S. schools starting this fall.

Her new wellness guidelines also include expanding a school breakfast program to ensure nearly nine million children in 2,000 academic buildings start their days with nutritional meals.

"I think we can all agree that our classrooms should be healthy places where our kids are not bombarded with ads for junk food," Obama said during a speech from the White House on Tuesday.

"We are well on our way to building healthier schools for all of our children. Children born today will be accustomed to eating healthier food during the school day, so their norm will be fruits and vegetables and not chips and candy," she added. 

The proposal comes during her week-long celebration for the fourth anniversary of her Let’s Move campaign, which she launched in February 2010 to help combat childhood obesity and ensure all families have access to healthy, affordable food in their communities. Since then, large chain restaurants began offering menus with calorie-conscious options and organizations work to plant gardens outside school buildings. In addition, more than 6,500 American schools have reintroduced exercise into the curriculum, and 90% have implemented new school lunch standards to serve more whole grains, lean protein, and an array of fruits and vegetables.

Obama, who is actively engaged as an advocate for healthy eating, acknowledged the criticism that she receives for fighting childhood obesity and the naysayers who discouraged her before the commencement of her program in 2010. The initiative aims to confirm parents are in control of their children's health, both at home and on school grounds.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture also in 2010 established the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act to reform school lunch and breakfast programs for millions of children.

"If we keep coming together and working together, all of this will be the new norm for the kids of our country," Obama said on Tuesday. "If there is anyone out there who is thinking to themselves, 'Well, in a few years this lady will be gone and this Let's Move thing will finally be over' might want to remind them that I didn't create this issue and I'm not the one who is truly driving it forward. All of you are."

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin mocked a proposed soda ban in New York by taking sips from a "Big Gulp" drink during her speech at last year's Conservative Political Action Conference. A court later struck down the idea, mostly promoted by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, declaring that limiting the sizes of soft drinks served in city restaurants is unconstitutional.

Obesity, which affects 17% of all American children and adolescents, is triple the rate now than from one generation ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Children who are overweight at a young age are more likely to become obese when they are older, according to a study published last month in the New England Journal of Medicine. Out of the 7,738 elementary-school children observed by experts, 12.4% of them were obese in kindergarten and almost 15% were overweight. By eighth grade, nearly 21% were obese and 17% were overweight.

Obama teamed up with musical celebrities last summer as part of her campaign to create an album that inspires and educates children to eat healthy and exercise regularly.

But overall, Obama said, healthy habits are developing in the country and becoming the new norm, especially in academic buildings.

"Healthy, well-educated kids are more likely to become healthy, well-educated adults," she said, "who will build a productive workforce."