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BEIJING (AP) — First lady Michelle Obama plans to avoid politics and focus on education and people-to-people contacts on her first visit to China.
 
Mrs. Obama's schedule includes a speech to Chinese and American students at Peking University and visits to the cities of Xi'an in the west and Chengdu in the southwest.
 
She was due to arrive Thursday, traveling with her mother and two daughters on the seven-day, three-city visit.
 
On Friday, Mrs. Obama is due to spend the day with Peng Liyuan, the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping.
 
"I think this is a very good opportunity to improve the China-U.S. relations, as the first lady can represent the soft side of diplomacy," said Wang Dong, a political scientist at Peking University's School of International Studies.
 
"Michelle Obama herself has been accomplished in areas such as women's rights, children issues and education, and I think members of the Chinese public are anticipating her visit with a positive attitude," Wang said.
 
The first lady intends to avoid contentious issues such as human rights, trade and cybersecurity, according to White House officials preparing the trip.
 
They said the first lady will use her personal stories to express American values. On Tuesday, she is due to visit a high school in Chengdu.
 
"Her focus on people-to-people relations, her focus on education and youth empowerment is one that we believe will resonate in China," Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser, told reporters ahead of the visit. "We also believe it's a message that is really fundamentally in the interest of the United States."
 
The first lady and her family also will visit the imperial palace and Great Wall in Beijing. While in Xi'an, she plans to visit ancient city walls and the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum. In Chendgu, the first lady is scheduled to visit a panda conservation center.
 
The trip provides an opportunity for President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping to cultivate a personal relationship through their wives following their meeting in Sunnylands in California last year, Wang said.
 
"Such a personal relationship with mutual trust is crucial, as the China-U.S. relationship has entered a more challenging phrase," Wang said.
 
Her host is Peng Liyuan, Xi's wife, who accompanied her husband on the Sunnylands visit but did not meet Mrs. Obama, who stayed in Washington. Her absence left some Chinese grumbling and the visit allows the first lady to make up for it.
 
"I think this provides a natural reason to stay engaged" before Xi and Obama can meet again, Wang said.
 
The trip also gives Peng unusual prominence in a Chinese official culture that usually keeps leaders' spouses in the background.
 
Peng, a popular folk singer, was better known than Xi before he became Communist Party leader and president.
 
"She has a good presence on television," said Willy Lam, a political analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "This is a formidable soft power china can use for the world to see China is not a monolithic society."
 
Chinese media have compared the dress styles of the two women with side-by-side photos.
 
The newspaper China Daily devoted a full page Thursday to their fashion choices.
 
"They know that what they do will be put under a microscope, including the clothes they don, and they parlay that kind of influence into exposure for causes with larger meanings," the newspaper said.
Published in National News
   WASHINGTON (AP) — Even the scoreboards in high school gyms eventually will have to promote good health.
   Moving beyond the lunch line, new rules that will be proposed Tuesday by the White House and the Agriculture Department would limit marketing of unhealthy foods in schools. They would phase out the advertising of sugary drinks and junk foods around campuses during the school day and ensure that other promotions in schools were in line with health standards that already apply to school foods.
   That means a scoreboard at a high school football or basketball game eventually wouldn't be allowed to advertise Coca-Cola, for example, but it could advertise Diet Coke or Dasani water, which is also owned by Coca-Cola Co. Same with the front of a vending machine. Cups, posters and menu boards advertise foods that don't meet the standards would also be phased out.
   Ninety percent of such marketing in schools is related to beverages, and many soda companies already have started to transition their sales and advertising in schools from sugary sodas and sports drinks to their own healthier products.
   The proposed rules are part of first lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative to combat child obesity, which is celebrating its fourth anniversary this week. Mrs. Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will announce the new rules at a White House event.
   "When parents are working hard at home, they need to rest assured that those efforts aren't being undone when kids are out of their control at school," Sam Kass, White House senior nutrition policy adviser, said ahead of the announcement.
   The rules also would allow more children access to free lunches and ensure that schools have wellness policies in place.
   The proposed rules come on the heels of USDA regulations that are now requiring foods in the school lunch line to be healthier.
   Rules set to go into effect next school year will make other foods around school healthier as well, including in vending machines and separate "a la carte" lines in the lunch room. Calorie, fat, sugar and sodium limits will have to be met on almost every food and beverage sold during the school day at 100,000 schools. Concessions sold at afterschool sports games would be exempt.
   The healthier food rules have come under fire from conservatives who think the government shouldn't dictate what kids eat — and from some students who don't like the healthier foods.
   Aware of the backlash, the USDA is allowing schools to make some of their own decisions on what constitutes marketing and asking for comments on some options. For example, the proposal asks for comments on initiatives like Pizza Hut's "Book It" program, which coordinates with schools to reward kids with pizza for reading.
   Rules for other school fundraisers, like bake sales and marketing for those events, would be left up to schools or states.
   Off-campus fundraisers, like an event at a local fast-food outlet that benefits a school, still would be permitted. But posters advertising the fast food may not be allowed in school hallways. An email to parents — with or without the advertising — would have to suffice. The idea is to market to the parents, not the kids.
   The rule also makes allowances for major infrastructure costs — that scoreboard advertising Coca-Cola, for example, wouldn't have to be immediately replaced. But the school would eventually have to get a new one with a healthier message.
   The beverage industry — led by companies Coca-Cola Co., Dr Pepper Snapple Group and PepsiCo — is on board with the move. American Beverage Association President and CEO Susan Neely said in a statement that aligning signage with the healthier drinks that will be offered in schools is the "logical next step."
   "Mrs. Obama's efforts to continue to strengthen school wellness make sense for the well-being of our schoolchildren," Neely said.
   Although Mrs. Obama lobbied Congress to pass the school nutrition bill in 2010, most of her efforts in recent years have been focused on the private sector, building partnerships with food companies and retailers to sell healthier foods.
   The child nutrition law also expanded feeding programs for hungry students. The rules being proposed Tuesday would increase that even further by allowing the highest-poverty schools to serve lunch and breakfast to all students for free. According to the USDA and the White House, that initiative would allow 9 million children in 22,000 schools to receive free lunches.
   The USDA has already tested the program, which is designed to increase participation for students and reduce paperwork and applications for schools, in 11 states.
   In addition, the Obama administration will announce new guidelines for school wellness policies. Schools have been required to have general wellness policies that set their own general standards for foods, physical activity and other wellness activities since 2004. But the new rules would require parents and others in the school community to be involved in those decisions.
Published in National News
   WASHINGTON (AP) - The White House is applauding a University of Missouri football player's decision to announce that he is gay, with President Barack Obama's spokesman, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden all portraying him as a courageous and inspirational athlete.
   Biden and the first lady took to Twitter on Monday to comment on Michael Sam, the all-American college player who declared publicly on Sunday that he is gay. Mrs. Obama says she "couldn't be prouder" of Sam's courage, both on and off the field.
   The tweet was signed "-mo," which is how the White House marks messages personally sent by the first lady.
   "Your courage is an inspiration to all of us," Biden said. The message was signed "-VP," which designates that the vice president sent it personally.
   Sam could become the first openly homosexual player in the NFL. He's scheduled to participate in the league's weeklong scouting camp, where potential draftees are evaluated, later this month in Indianapolis. He is currently projected to be a mid-round draft pick in May.
   White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president "shares the sentiments expressed by the first lady and the vice president and so many others in marveling at his courage and congratulating him on the decisions he's made, on the support he's had from his team and wishing him well in the future, including in professional football."
   Carney said Sam's announcement should not affect his standing on the NFL draft and that his abilities should be measured by his performance.
   "And in this case, his performance has been exceptional," Carney said.
 
Published in National News
Thursday, 12 September 2013 05:29

First lady wants people to drink more plain water

   WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama has pushed America to eat healthier and to exercise more. Now she says we should "drink up" too. As in plain water. And as in more of it.

   She's getting behind a campaign being announced Thursday by the Partnership for a Healthier America to encourage people to drink more water.

   Organizers say too many people don't drink enough water daily and about one-fourth of kids below age 19 don't drink any water at all on any given day.

   The first lady launched an initiative in 2010 to tackle childhood obesity. In the past, she has advocated switching from sugary sodas to water. But officials behind this new effort say it's strictly about getting people to drink more water — not about promoting water over other beverages.

 
Published in Health & Fitness
WASHINGTON (AP) - Walmart is putting special labels on some store-brand products to help shoppers quickly spot healthier items. Millions of schoolchildren are helping themselves to vegetables from salad bars in their lunchrooms. Kids' meals at Olive Garden and Red Lobster restaurants automatically come with a side of fruit or vegetables and a glass of low-fat milk.

These and other changes were the food industry's response to the anti-childhood obesity campaign Michelle Obama launched three years ago. Other changes are in store.

Some people criticized the effort as unwanted government intrusion while nutrition advocates credited the first lady with raising awareness and bringing a range of interests to the table.

Mrs. Obama heads out Wednesday on a two-day tour to promote the "Let's Move" initiative, with stops in Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri.
Published in Health & Fitness

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