Michelle Obama criticized for obesity comments: Was she really out of line?

Michelle Obama has taken on childhood obesity as her cause from the White House.

With more than one-third of America’s kids falling into the category of obesity and as a mother of young children, it seems like the perfect issue for our First Lady.

However, she’s already being criticized for her efforts.  Here are the issues:

  1. Michelle Obama referred to own her daughters when talking about obesity.

From Shine: “Two weeks after announcing the unnerving news that childhood obesity has tripled over the last 30 years, and unveiling her own initiative to combat it, Michelle Obama has offended critics by discussing her own “wake-up” moment—when the family pediatrician told her that daughters Sasha and Malia were becoming overweight.”

“ ‘In my eyes I thought my children were perfect,” Mrs. Obama said at the January launch of her initiative. “I didn’t see the changes.’ ”

As someone who writes about her children often, I can understand the natural inclination to discuss your own children when talking about an issue. She was making the cause personal because it really had affected her family. They are not perfect and she’s saying to America even we are dealing with this problem. While using a personal experience is effective case making, was it hurtful to her girls to say that to the national media or are these critics seeing a problem where there is not one?

I read a story a few years back about mom bloggers and the privacy of their children. The point of the story was to be careful not writing something that would embarrass your child. When I started writing my kids were babies so there was very little that could embarrass them nor would they have known. But as they have grown, I had started viewing each mention of them through that lens. Would it embarrass them to know this fact about them is on the Web

2. The second criticism was about word choice Michelle used in speaking to her own children about maintaining a healthy weight. From Psychology Today:

“While her heart is in the right place, Michelle may not have considered or been familiar with the delicate balance between preventing obesity and triggering eating disorders. She mentioned that she put her children on a diet after her pediatrician and their father felt they were getting “chubby.” Words like “chubby” don’t cause eating disorders but they are often a trigger to disordered eating behavior. As an eating disorder professional, we would strongly caution parents from using labels or prerogative words to describe their child’s weight as this has lasting impacts on a child’s self esteem. Also, putting kids on “diet” instead of focusing on healthy eating and exercise can be another trigger for eating disorder behaviors. Dieting is clearly not the answer. And, weight alone is not an indicator of a child’s health. Children’s weights dramatically vary and change particularly as they go through development stages, growth spurts and puberty. Instead of aiming for slimness, let’s focus on a healthy lifestyle that includes mindful eating, access to healthy food and exercise.”

I think that in general many women are very worried about passing on eating issues that they have to their children so I think folks are particularly tuned into words like chubby.  But would that be a problem for all children? Would it depend on how it was said and how often or is just verboten?

So what do you think:

Is Michelle Obama being unfairly criticized for using her children as national examples in a family having to change some habit at home to prevent becoming overweight?

Does her word choices of chubby or diet bother you? Do you think they actually bothered her kids?

Are you personally worried about passing on eating issues to your children, particularly daughters? Are you extra careful in how your refer to and monitor your children’s eating?

195 comments Add your comment


February 7th, 2010
11:45 am

Unfortunately it is in a childs’ family genes to be overweight. I have a family member who has a child that is and always have been overweight. No matter what the mother do – the child is still overweight. This childs’ father side of the family is obese and have a lot of health issues. The mother of this child has this child into sports all year long; but it doesn’t help. This child is still overweight. The mother has changed this childs’ eating habits; but that doesn’t work. The child exercises probably more than the average child…but the child is still obese. So it’s not always about a diet or even exercise. Some people are just prone to being obese..its’ very sad and unfortunate, but true.


February 7th, 2010
11:49 am

The word “diet” according to Webster’s dictionary is “a: food and drink regularly provided or consumed b : habitual nourishment c : the kind and amount of food prescribed for a person or animal for a special reason d : a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight.” Unfortunately, it is the fourth definition (d) that comes to most people’s mind, but it is not the sole meaning of the word. Mrs. Obama said nothing wrong. Having foods or drinks regularly provided or consumd to provide habitiual nourishment should not be an issue–it’s what is needed.


February 7th, 2010
11:53 am

No more critical on Obama than on Bush for her “just say no” or Clinton on healthcare. Neither president’s wife were being completely honest in either of their campaigns. It’s just a way for the wives to have an agenda and live in a fantasy world that they can actually make a difference. They are just arm candies that have to feel they are important so they can be ignored by their spouses except for public displays of happy married.
Have any wives agendas really changed anything in America? Why can’t you deal with something that is really important to rearing our children. I.E. drugs in schools, sexual harassment by teachers and other students, bullies, low self esteem, children that can’t afford to eat at school, buy school supplies or have an actual home to go to instead of a shelter or hotel? Go up and face the problems in the Atlanta area and not situations that directly do not help our area.


February 7th, 2010
11:55 am

AuburnTigers, have you ever heard of people being misquoted? Have you also ever heard of typos? I’m pretty sure if you are a regular reader of this newspaper, you’ve seen them. Have you never misspoke, said one word, but meant to say something different? Probably not, you’re perfect, right. Sorry, everyone else for continuing a conversation that was COMPLETELY off topic.

Brenda Lumpkin-Rhaney

February 7th, 2010
12:02 pm

I think people cannot even see past Michelle Obama’s color. Everything she says the are going to find a problem with just to get back at her husband in some way. It is our duty as parents to keep our children healthy and a diet doesn’t mean she is keeping food from them, she is giving them healthier meals. Most obese people will tell you they learned their unhealthy eating habits in childhood. Look past who the woman is and what color she is and take her words to be true. Gosh people this is 2010, when are we going to get past race?



February 7th, 2010
12:07 pm

For you racist that think Michelle is being critisized because she is black, get a life please. We now have a black person in the White House and yes, there will be racisim out there and it that subject is a two way street. The Black Panther Party is to blacks what the KKK is to whites…pure racists. This is being over blown and should go away. I would rather she be asked about some of her husbands policies and does she still think America is a bad place.


February 7th, 2010
12:08 pm

A parent becoming aware of their child being obese and putting the child on a diet has nothing to do with creating eating disorders. Eating disorders are psychological. Obesity is a physical problem. The psychological problem comes in when you let your child become obese and their friends start calling them names because of it. I think it’s admirable that Ms. Obama pointed out that she became aware of the problem and is addressing it before it becomes a psychological and a health issue. She said in a way that people identify with. Offense usually comes from the listening side. Oh, I know, maybe it’s better to coddle people with language. “Your child weighs more than they should” still means “Your child is too fat.”

If you’re dumb enough to let your child become unhealthily fat by letting them sit for hours in front of the TV and video games and eat junk food, then maybe you need the truth shoved in your face with blunt language.


February 7th, 2010
12:09 pm

Wow!!! Way to go with the nick-picking. Why is the standard so different when it comes to the Obama’s? The only answer is race. If this was Laura Bush nothing would be said about this at all ther than to praise her for doing a good thing. Get a life.

jonathan partridge

February 7th, 2010
12:13 pm

get a life people face the facts, she was woman enough to say what you are not and not only are the childrens in the states are getting fat, so are the people who make money from the way of life they sale to the kids and parents these days, we all could shade some weight off and myself to if you did not like what the Frist lady said you may want to check your weight too. only thing small with you is your mind she was on point with what she said and how she said it.


February 7th, 2010
1:22 pm

You will always have morons ready to complain on anything that comes out of the First lady’s mouth. This has become a part of their presence for being in the White House. There will always be in this country those who have a problem with that black family being at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. And yes this is a fat, wasteful society.


February 7th, 2010
1:33 pm

As a teacher I see every day how many kids are at or way beyond just being “overweight”. Look at what’s on convenience store shelves and look at how many parents don’t even ask what the kids are buying. We’re addicted to fat and sugar in this country, and it’s showing. It’s easier to buy a bag of chips than it is to peel and apple or an orange for the kids, and often it’s cheaper. My students tell me all the time that they’d rather have junk and that their parents buy it for them. As parents, we have to sacrifice a little couch time ourselves and help our kids learn a safe, healthy attitude toward’s food. Just letting them eat what they want, while healthy for their self-esteem, just breeds overeating and addiction to food.

As a parent, my son’s pediatrician said the same thing the Obama’s doctor said. We’ve had to seriously look at our daily routine and eating habits and I’ve had many discussions with my son about what to eat and the importance of proper weight. Instead of it “triggering” a self-esteem issue or eating disorder, it’s been a great way to get together and learn. He now is interested in cooking and reading labels, and often corrects my choices in the store. He still loves his ice cream and chips (he’s a kid after all), but he and I have shared some wonderful times planning menus and cooking meals together. What some would see as a “problem” has become a great learning experience and has fostered some very good family time in the store and the kitchen. I love my son enough to help him learn about healthy eating and healthy life. I want him to be around long after I’m old and gray.

Just Sayin'

February 7th, 2010
2:26 pm

There are too many uneducated people in this country when it comes to this topic. Including Ms. Obama and her Pediatrician. There’s a difference between being overweight and overfat. Many can be overweight and still be completely healthy. In addition, kids will often fluccuate during development and may indeed become overfat as a mechanism to store energy for development. Ms. Obama’s message should have been nothing about her kids. And her pediatrician should have educated her appropriately about “overweight”. Her message should be focused on developing/maintaining healthy lifestyle habits that can be carried from youth to adulthood.


February 7th, 2010
2:36 pm

This is the dumbest article in the AJC. The author of this obviously had nothing else better to write about. Nit-picking over words and making assumptions about what her kids think and feel. Get a life. Better yet, ask the first family for their input before making ASSumptions


February 7th, 2010
2:40 pm

The “majority” of Americans are so accustomed to seeing a flat pan-caked bootied First Lady in the White House.


February 7th, 2010
2:49 pm

I think it is wonderful that someone has finally addresed the issue of obseity in children. It has become a national disgrace that these children are so over weight. It starts at a young age and then when they are young teens these children weigh more than their parents. Gym needs to be back in the schools.


February 7th, 2010
3:01 pm

Oh Michelle, just shut up and go make the White House chef cook y’all some supper.


February 7th, 2010
3:07 pm

Enough already! The reason we have so many overweight children and adults is because people want to tiptoe around this issue. It is a serious one, and needs to be tackled head on. The 1st Lady did the right thing…more parents should follow in her footsteps!


February 7th, 2010
3:10 pm

One more thing….anyone criticizing the 1st Lady for her comments is probably overweight, you don’t have to admit it to me…I’m just saying.

Sick of Constant Criticism Of Obama's

February 7th, 2010
3:30 pm

Nothing she said was out of line. But the majority will criticize anything the Obama’s say or do, forgetting the misery and h*** hole the previous administration has gotten this country into.


February 7th, 2010
3:45 pm

She is way out of line, but she should worry more about her husband spending money like a druken sailor and telling us to shut up as a nation than she is about her girls’ weight. Besides, she is not looking too thin herself… WE ARE NOT A SOCIALIST NATION!!!!

Jimmy Carter

February 7th, 2010
4:00 pm

Wonder if Obama’s brother and other relatives are overweight in Africa…I wonder but I bet Michelle doesn’t!

Too Old to Worry

February 7th, 2010
4:04 pm

This is what POLITICAL CORRECTNESS gets you. Personally I think Political Correctness is an attempt on mind control and STINKs. It just makes unproductive work for lilberals.

Can't wait til 2012

February 7th, 2010
5:12 pm

First of all why do we care what she said ? I still remember her comment about never being proud of her country. Every one has put the Obozo’s and Oprah on a pedistol, they are no better than anyone else. What makes them the authority ?
Growing up all free time during the day was spent outside running, playing and burning calores and although junk food was not availabe every day, a bag of potato chips or cookies would almost disappear in mere minutes once open. My mouth waters remembering the home made biscuits or my grandmother’s Pound cake, my mother’s Fried Chicken was out of this world, my brothers and I were never close to being over wait. So ,is it the foods we consume or is it the inactivety?

Lee T

February 7th, 2010
6:05 pm

This broohaa should not even be a part of the discussion. “Chubby” is a very innocuous word that should pain no one. Would the objectors prefer that she had called her daughters “Fat?” As an adult who weighs a good 182# and stands 5′10″, I see the problem of obesity and overweight as a national catastrophe but we have so man people caught up in throwing all sorts of garbage down their throats that I am more offended by them than anything Ms Obama may have to say.

Ms Obama’s words are not costing me money, fat people are! The hospitals cannot adequately treat people with regular ailments because they have to make so many Concessions for “the fat squad.” It will cost over $50B a year by 2015 to deal with the ravages of overearting and bad eating so there is where the criticism should be going.

Kudos to Ms Obama for making it personal and may she have the heart to really counsel her daughters rather than waste time responding to these critics.



February 7th, 2010
9:33 pm


February 7th, 2010
9:40 pm

If she said nothing about her own kids — then there would be some RIGHT WING radical talking about —- if she is so perfect – what about her own kids……
I am so sick of this nit picking b.s.

Walk around a mall one Saturday….most of the kids couldn’t run a block if they had to.
(you know it’s true —- we have sissyfied the boys and the girls are too busy telling mom what to do)


February 7th, 2010
9:44 pm

The only excercise kids tjhese days can do — is the walk from the driveway to car. They don’t even RUN ANYMORE to do that!


McDonalds, Wendy’s and Pizza are not your firends…. It’s fast and convienent today — turns your kids into big fat tubs of lard with bad eating habits by the time they are 12.

Barbara Cummings

February 7th, 2010
10:25 pm

Who are we to tell Michelle what she can and can’t say. She is smart and intelligent. Some of these negative comments are so silly. Keep up the good work Michelle. Our children need all the help they can get.


February 7th, 2010
10:41 pm

I believe in being firm with a child and serving healthy food as well as let them know that french fries kill(clog arteries), no clean plate club, and we have a “sweet budget”. My tactic includes ohysical activity, education, and availabilty of healthty choices. It is not hard to put a healthy meal in the slow cooker or overcook a bunch of food and freeze it.

However, I know a lady that is continously calling her 7 yr old daughter a fat slob(in front of child and others)The mom places looks above brains and self confidence. This child calls herself a fat slob and has very low self esteem. This same mother stocks her fridge with sugary soda and pushes Little Debbies on my kid. Just saying…Sometimes the indirect approach works best.


February 8th, 2010
2:52 am

All you fat azz higganoes shut up!!


February 8th, 2010
2:52 am

Michelle Obama is a lard-assed HO!


February 8th, 2010
8:33 am

My big problem with this is that Michelle is broadcasting to the world a conversation between her and her children’s doctor that should be kept private. I want my children to feel like their doctor is someone that they can trust without question – and that they could go to him with any issue that they need help with. How likely will these children be to open up to their doctor now – knowing that whatever is said will be on the national news? There is a reason that our government has laws that protect a patient’s privacy.


February 8th, 2010
8:13 pm

For the no birth certificate president commentator, how many times does a President have to release his birth certificate for it to be real? Does it depend on his color or his party? As I recall, President Obama has had his birth certificate released twice by the State of Hawaii and once by his campagin. How many other presidents have had their birth certificates released? Since we KNOW John McCain was born in Panama…how many of the birthers objected to his run for President?
For those who want the Obamas to come out of their ‘private’ lives regarding obesity issues and health issues…where were YOUR complaints when the Bush’s were promoting SAY NO TO DRUGS? (And I suported that effort, just in case you are wondering) NOBODY is targeting you, as self absorbed as you appear to be. Let those who are affected and who want a change for their children take note. The rest of us can go on with our lives, much like we did with the SAY NO TO DRUGS program.


February 8th, 2010
8:24 pm

Joe Dawg…your nic says it all. I rest my case.


February 9th, 2010
11:50 am

I think the focus on healthy eating for children is a wonderful cause for our first lady. I think that our public school lunch programs would be a place where she could make a difference. Take out the vending machines and offer only healthy choices for lunch at all levels of schools. I do think however, it would have been better to leave out comments about her daughters. Body image is a big deal for teens. It would have mortified me if my parent had discussed something personal like this about me in a public forum.

[...] girls?" asked one blogger who focuses on Mommy issues. Psychology Today even questioned the first lady for using the word "chubby" to describe her daughters. While her heart is in the right place, Michelle may not have considered [...]


February 11th, 2010
10:02 am

Seriously, people come on! If she didn’t bring her girls as examples, everyone would be complain about how she is not familiar with this type of situation. When she does bring her girls into it, she is being told that she is not respecting her childrens privacy. MAKE UP YOUR MINDS!!!


February 11th, 2010
1:43 pm

I came back to this to see the additional comments, and the words “putting on a diet” keep coming in. It should just be “diet” as in WHAT YOU EAT. If you are on a healthy “diet” to begin with, i.e., you eat what’s good for you and you exercise, you’ll probably never need to go on “a diet”. I think lots of parents get upset over the subject because they are guilty of letting their kids eat whatever they want, or they cut corners by stopping by the fast food “dinner” supply house. I know – you have to work and don’t have time to be a good parent. Today I was behind a woman who had two kids who were FAT. They weren’t chubby; they were not over-weight; they were FAT and one was eating a donut. The mother was carrying the donut bag.


February 14th, 2010
7:33 pm


February 15th, 2010
8:38 pm

As a fat child, my mother had no problem sharing my dr visit reports with her friends. I was so embarrassed. One of my mother’s friends enjoyed making fun of me as a result of this. I’m in my 30’s and I still remember how I felt. My feelings were not taken into consideration. I may have been a child, but I had feelings and I deserved respect. I would never share personal info about my child’s health in a public forum, not without my child’s permission first.


February 16th, 2010
10:02 am

Are any of you parents? If you are you need help.

[...] should do something about it. (Some also questioned the First Lady involving her daughters at all.) Momania and The Los Angeles Times have “weighed in” (so to speak), among others. If you watch [...]

X Youth FAT

April 24th, 2010
11:34 am

She needs to keep em off the Fatback, Chitlins, Fried Catfish, and Pork Chops….this will help her girls

Loving DAD

April 24th, 2010
11:45 am

I am serious about what I am about to say. It hurts me to say this but truth is truth…..

I had pleaded with my wife for years to stop killing our son by giving him whatever he wanted to eat! He was so fat. I would say something and she would go beserk! Said I did not “Love” him.

I got so upset with how my wife was feeding my son (all kinds of FATTY foods) and got so desperate, I actually called his Pediatrician and begged him to lay the law down to HER! Thank GOD he actually did it, otherwise my son would have endured all kinds of mental and physical issue throughout his life!

Because I called and laid my heart out for my son, he now is living a normal high school teenage life – otherwise only GOD knows what his future would have been.

OH yeah, she still does not know I called as it was done in 1oo% confidence with the DR and staff. Thanks Dr S…and Kathy for saving my son’s life.

I guess what I am saying is….take the situation in hand and deal with it yourself, because the other parent may have NO clue about what is before their eyes!
Now I have to deal with her obesity daily – and that IS pure HELL!

[...] should do something about it. (Some also questioned the First Lady involving her daughters at all.) Momania and The Los Angeles Times have “weighed in” (so to speak), among others. If you watch [...]