Michelle Obama has pushed Americans 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.
The first lady, an exercise fanatic who loves French fries and whose biceps are envied by women everywhere, is getting behind a campaign being launched Thursday to encourage people to drink more plain old-fashioned water. Whether it comes from a faucet, an underground spring, a rambling river or a plastic bottle, the message is: "Drink up."
She was joining the Partnership for a Healthier America as the nonpartisan, nonprofit group launches the nationwide effort from Watertown, Wis., with backing from a variety of likely and unlikely sources, including the beverage industry, entertainers, media and government. Mrs. Obama is the organization's honorary chairman.
Every bodily system depends on water, which makes up about 60 percent of a person's body weight, according to the Mayo Clinic. Water is a calorie-free option for people concerned about weight control, and is largely inexpensive and available practically everywhere.
Yet despite recent trends showing a rise in water consumption and declines in the amount of soda people drink, Larry Soler, the partnership's president and chief executive, says the "drink up" water campaign is still needed. Health advocates have blamed the corn syrups and other sugars in soda for obesity.
"That's exactly the type of impact we're glad to be seeing, and we want to accelerate that because we still have an enormous problem in this country with rates of obesity," Soler said.
Sam Kass, executive director of "Let's Move," the first lady's anti-childhood obesity initiative, cited federal statistics showing that about 40 percent of consumers drink less than half the typically recommended eight cups of water a day and that about a fourth of kids below age 19 don't drink any plain water at all on any given day.
"Water is sort of our original energy drink," he said.
Soler emphasized that the campaign is not about pushing a particular type of water, or stressing water over other beverages, although Mrs. Obama in the past has counseled people to switch from sugary soda to water. She also has talked about seeing improvement in her two daughters' health after making that substitution in their diets.
The first lady also has been criticized by people who accuse her of being the nation's food police.
"Every participating company has agreed to only encourage people to drink water, not focus on what people shouldn't drink, not even talk about why they may feel their type of water is better than another," Soler said. "It's just `drink more water.'"
The first lady has recorded individual messages that are to air from morning to night Thursday on various TV talk shows, including "Today," "Good Morning America," "Nuevo Dia," "Despierta America," "The View," "Live With Kelly and Michael," "Katie" and the late-night programs with comedians Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jimmy Fallon. The hosts also will drink water on air and encourage viewers to do the same.
The campaign's logo, a blue water drop with the words "drink up" in white, eventually will be plastered on millions of packages of bottled water, individual bottles of water themselves and reusable bottles, Soler said, as well as on more than 10,000 outdoor public drinking fountains.
The American Beverage Association, which represents the makers of soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, juices and juice drinks, and bottled water and water beverages, supports the campaign, as does the International Bottled Water Association, among others, Soler said.
Individuals bottled water brands behind the push include Aquafina, Dasani, Deer Park, Evian, Nestle Pure Life, Poland Spring and Zephyrhills, Soler said.
Watertown, which is located on the banks of the Rock River in southeastern Wisconsin about midway between Milwaukee and Madison, is home to two companies with ties to the soft drink industry. Wis-Pak Inc., which manufactures and distributes Pepsi-Cola products, has its corporate office there with about 200 workers and is among the city's top 10 employers, according to the local Chamber of Commerce. The smaller 7-Up Bottling Co. is a family-owned beverage distributor.
Neither company returned telephone messages left Wednesday seeking comment on the campaign.
Kass said Watertown wasn't chosen because of the soda distributors but because it twice had won an award for having the best-tasting water in the state. The Wisconsin Water Association, which represents public utilities, however, said it could find a record of only one win, in 2010. This year's winner was the state capital, Madison.