CHICAGO -- First lady Michelle Obama will bring a star-studded lineup to Chicago on Thursday to tout the success of her national campaign against childhood obesity. But some of the toughest battles on that front are still being fought at neighborhood schools far from all the glitz and glamour.
Two years after Chicago Public Schools kicked French fries and cheese-laden nachos off lunch menus in favor of fresh fruits and vegetables, many teachers still are trying to convince students to give dishes like hummus and cucumber slices a try.
"We just like chips with our food," said Lee Green, 10, a third-grader at Oscar DePriest Elementary in Chicago, who was a big hit at lunch this week when he poured his Cheetos onto his friends' plates alongside raw broccoli florets and vegetarian baked beans. "I don't eat broccoli."
"Ain't no cheese on it," another student blurted.
Chicago officials acknowledge that the first lady, who has enlisted high profile celebrities like Beyonce and Big Bird in her campaign, has helped push the largely silent epidemic of childhood obesity into the national spotlight. Her multicity tour stops in McCormick Place on Thursday, where 3,000 students will have a chance to mingle with sports stars including gold medal gymnast Gabrielle Douglas, tennis superstar Serena Williams and professional skateboarder Paul Rodriguez, also known as P-Rod.
While health officials in some cities have given the first lady's 3-year-old "Let's Move" initiatives credit for slight declines in national childhood obesity rates over the last three years, the impact is not as clear in Chicago.
Policies to improve school lunches, remove sugary snacks from vending machines and add recess to the school are still fairly new, and some schools are struggling to find effective ways to make them work.
In some poor and minority neighborhoods, getting students to eat better requires more than just adding brown rice to the menu. It means changing a culture built around fast food and reversing generations of unhealthy eating habits that have developed alongside poverty.
"People often make the mistake of saying obesity is all about choice, but it's not just an individual issue," said Adam Becker, executive director of the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children, which is comprised of local health organizations.
"The decisions we make on a daily basis about what we eat, drink and how active we are all are shaped by the conditions in which we live," Becker said. "Safety from traffic and crime and access to healthy food are beyond any one individual's influence."