Posted by: Hil | March 16, 2009

Public Health, Nutrition and the Obama Family


I recently came across a New York Times article about Michelle Obama’s new campaign to raise awareness about healthy eating and nutrition.  I think it is wonderful that the First Lady is promoting farmers markets and CSAs and local food growers.  I think its especially great that she’s trying to bring attention to the nutrition needs of struggling families.  (Here I would like to insert a shameless plug for two local organizations that do wonderful work providing nutritious food to people who need it:  the Westside Food Bank and the Bread and Roses Cafe.  If you live in the LA area, please consider donating or volunteering.)

But when I read the following section, my heart just dropped.

“A couple of years ago — you’d never know it by looking at her now — Malia was getting a little chubby,” Mr. Obama told the magazine.

They took action, Mrs. Obama said, when “her doctor — he really monitors this type of thing — suggested we look at her diet. So we cut out juice boxes, sweets and processed foods.”
Advocates for healthful food and living want the Obamas to do even more.

Ms. Reichl would like the White House kitchen to issue regular news releases that describe what the first couple and their daughters are eating. (Then parents across the country could tell their children, “You know, Malia and Sasha were eating salad yesterday. …”)

I am so deeply disappointed and distressed that the Obamas felt it was appropriate to comment on their ten-year-old daughter’s weight issues to the national media.  I was a slightly overweight ten-year-old myself, and I would have been devastated if my parents had called me chubby in front of anyone.  Can you even imagine what it would be like to have your parents tell a reporter that you couldn’t have juice boxes or sweets anymore because you’d been getting chubby?

Furthermore, the subtext of these comments irks me.  So sugar and processed foods are totally fine if you’re genetically predisposed to skinniness, but if you start getting chubby, then no juice boxes for you?  I wish that the Obamas had presented healthy eating as a family choice rather than a prescription for their daughter’s supposed weight problems.

I think that the Obamas’ comments were probably borne of a well-intentioned desire to be relatable.  Part of the Obamas’ appeal (and particularly Michelle’s) is that they manage to be fabulous, but still relatable.  Michelle wants to speak as a down-to-earth mom, not as a some perfect person who has it all figured out.  The Obamas want to be healthy role models for the country, and that is great.

But Malia and Sasha did not sign up to be role models.  They are not public figures.  They are children, and they have the right to live as private a life as can be managed, given their position.  No matter how many children would eat their vegetables to be like Malia and Sasha, its not fair to ask a couple of grade schoolers to be the poster-children for healthy eating.  Their eating habits and weight should not be acceptable topics for public discussion.

I’m really happy that the Obamas are talking about the importance of fresh foods and healthy eating, and I hope they continue to do so.  However, I also really hope that they proceed with caution and take better care to protect their children from the media.  If the President and First Lady want to tell us what they eat, that’s fine, but I really hope that they leave the kids out of it.



  1. I thought it was a little hurtful when I heard that myself. I hope she doesn’t some day have eating issues because she thinks she caused her family to give up the junk. On the other hand, it does seem like the family does have a balanced and healthy approach to food and living. I think a better way to explain it would have been to say “we wanted to start eating healthier so malia and sasha would be healthy” or something like that.

  2. OMG thank you for sharing this! I am pretty livid, to say the least. When I was 10 years old, I was a little chubby too- you know what? It lasted for like 6 months. Kids go through fluctuations too as they grow.

    I couldn’t agree more with what you said about skinny people being “allowed” to have junk. We should all strive to be the healthiest we can be no matter what our size!

    No wonder eating disorders show up in younger and younger girls.

    Thanks again. Ang grrrrr.

  3. OMG, I totally agree! That is terrible that they said that about Malia! What are they trying to do! That is a good way to spark an eating disorder in her for sure, and at such a young age! People need to stop fixating on weight, and focus on being HEALTHY, balanced and happy!!

    Errr, I hate it when people say things like that!!!!!

  4. Thanks for posting this. I’m also glad Michelle Obama is taking on nutrition and healthy eating as her mission as First Lady but I was upset when I heard she said that. I wonder how her child reacted. Her daughters are in for a ride…

  5. […] and whatever the cost may be, including engendering an eating disorder in their own children ("Malia was getting a little chubby…") because the only thing worse than being a bulimic is being a fat […]

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