You served on the Presidents Council on Fitness, Sports, & Nutrition and the Presidential Delegation to Milan Expo under President Obama and in support of First Lady Michelle Obamas Lets Move! initiative. Tell us more about those roles and your work with Mrs. Obama while she was in the White House. 

Almost as soon as she arrived at the White House, Mrs. Obama announced that supporting healthier kids and families was going to be one of her top priorities. I was honored to be part of a group of people she asked to gather facts and evidence to guide her strategy.

What made her Let’s Move! initiative different was that it didn’t only encourage physical activity and healthy eating, it also leaned on having fun and making sure kids and families have healthy options where they live, learn, work, and play. 

So, the President’s Council on Fitness and Sports became the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition, and its membership expanded to include nutritionists, physicians, and even chefs. Our job was to highlight ways to cultivate, prepare, and distribute healthy foods across the country. And when we were invited to the food expo in Milan, we knew it was an opportunity to spread that message to a global audience. And, honestly, who wouldn’t want to go to a food expo in Italy with a group of chefs? 

Another great part of this work was getting to celebrate local schools and communities that were making healthy eating and physical activity a fun part of every child’s day. Of course, the best visits were the ones where Mrs. Obama injected some of her personal magic. I remember one visit in particular, where a group of kids showed her how they made smoothies at school and practiced yoga. When she revealed that she and the President also practice yoga, the kids ate it up.

What are some of the key themes and strategies youve seen over the course of your career that you think can have the biggest impact on improving kids’ health and wellness?

When it comes to prevention, start early. Because it’s better to prevent poor health than to fix it. For example, as a country we’ve made the most progress in achieving a healthy weight with young children, 2 to 5 years old. That’s a good, early start.

Think local. There are big variations in almost every health statistic by county and by state. So, if we want to improve the health of our entire nation, we need to pay attention to the unique demographics, cultures, challenges, and assets of our local communities. 

Keep information flowing. To take meaningful action, people need accessible, understandable, and up to date information from trusted sources. 

What role can the private sector play in promoting kids’ health?

Every sector has an important role to play in this effort. The private sector is particularly good at being innovative, and when they use that talent to create and promote healthy products in ways that engage and inspire people, that goes a long way. 

How can parents get involved in creating healthier communities?

I’m a physician. I’m also a mother and a grandmother. One thing I know for sure is that every parent wants their kids to be healthy, and they generally know what works best for their children. 

So my advice is simple: Get involved where your children go to school, where they play with friends, and where they participate in organized activities. Use your considerable parental influence to make sure there are safe and fun ways for them to be physically active.

Looking back on raising your own kids, what is your advice for parents in their efforts to raise healthy kids today?

Every parent I know is juggling six things at once. So, don’t try to make huge, abrupt changes. Instead, be intentional about building healthy eating habits, and build physical activity into your regular routine. 

Start those routines early in your child’s life, and be consistent day to day, month to month, and year to year. It will pay off. 

And lastly, make playing and having fun a time to lean into healthy activities instead of unhealthy habits. 

Thank you so much to Risa for sharing her insights with us. We’re excited to keep collaborating with her as a member of our Kitchen Cabinet. Stay tuned for more right here on Nothing to Sugarcoat.