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WASHINGTON — First lady Michelle Obama says small changes in diet and exercise habits can improve health and fitness.

In other words, don’t try to change everything at once.

Choose walking over driving. Add a vegetable or fruit to meals. Switch from sugary soda to water.

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Mrs. Obama said Tuesday that lifestyle changes are needed because nearly one-third of U.S. children are either overweight or obese — a major public health threat, as she described it, that doesn’t bode well for their future.

“Imagine what we’re going to be facing in 20 or 30 years if we don’t get on this issue,” she said while visiting the Health and Human Services Department, her 11th stop at a Cabinet department or federal agency. “None of us wants a future like that for our children.”

Mrs. Obama said she knows firsthand that change is hard. She recalled her not too distant days as a busy, working mother rushing home after work only to find an empty refrigerator and two hungry, complaining kids. It was easy to order pizza or other takeout food, she said.

Then the family pediatrician sounded an alarm, the first lady said, adding that it prompted her to start making some of the changes she talked about Tuesday: adding more fruits and vegetables to meals, cutting back on sugary drinks and processed foods, reading food labels.

“Again, not totally evaporating your way of being as you know it today,” she said.

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The Health and Human Services Department recently announced that states, communities, U.S. territories and tribes may apply for a share of $493 million in economic stimulus funds to pay for prevention and wellness programs.

Mrs. Obama said those initiatives can range from encouraging grocery stores to locate in areas that don’t have them to stocking vending machines with healthier snacks to creating safe places where adults and children can exercise and play.

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