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Michelle Obama to mark 50th birthday on Friday

By Darlene Superville

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 13 2014 6:44 a.m. MST

The message has rippled far from that modest start and the first lady can claim some of the credit.

Retailers and food makers are reformulating processed foods to cut down on sugar, salt and fat. Some chain restaurants are making similar changes to what they send out of their kitchens. School lunches are being made healthier and retailers are opening stores in places with limited or no access to fresh food.

Even Sesame Street is allowing the produce industry to use Elmo, Big Bird and its other furry characters free of charge to sell kids on fruits and veggies.

Mrs. Obama once said she's willing "to make a complete fool out of myself to get our kids moving" and has kept her word by doing jumping jacks, kicking soccer balls and dancing the "Dougie" with groups of them to make the point that exercise can be fun. She's even competed in a potato sack race with Jimmy Fallon at the White House and challenged Ellen DeGeneres to a pushups battle on her TV show.

The first lady and Vice President Joe Biden's wife, Jill, a military mom, also lead a nationwide effort to rally the public around military families. Mrs. Obama wrote a best-selling book, "American Grown," about the garden and makes time to advocate for the arts, holding regular music and film workshops at the White House. She and her staff also mentor teenage girls.

The new health care law being one exception, Mrs. Obama rarely makes an overt push for her husband's policies. But she'll begin using her personal story of overcoming obstacles to getting an education to help him meet a previously announced goal of having the U.S. achieve the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020.

The Harvard-trained lawyer has resisted the pressure to advocate causes bolder than childhood obesity and military families.

Robert Watson, who studies first ladies at Florida's Lynn University, said Mrs. Obama probably wants to do more but is reluctant to step out too far because of public distaste for active, assertive first ladies.

"I can't help but think that, before the Obamas leave office, Michelle will take the hand-off from her husband and, head down, go right up the middle for a touchdown," he said.

Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

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