WASHINGTON— 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 more of it.
The first lady, who has spent several years highlighting the problem of childhood obesity, is getting behind a national campaign being announced Sept. 10 to encourage people to drink more old-fashioned, calorie-free 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 effort from Watertown, Wis., with backing from a variety of sources, including the beverage industry, media, government and entertainers such as actress Eva Longoria.
Mrs. Obama is the partnership's honorary chairwoman.
The first lady said she has realized since beginning the childhood obesity initiative in 2010 that drinking more water is the best thing people can do for their health.
"Drink just one more glass of water a day and you can make a real difference for your health, your energy and the way you feel. So 'drink up' and see for yourself," she said in a statement before the announcement.
Every bodily system depends on water, which makes up about 60 percent of a person's body weight, according to the Mayo Clinic. Water also is a calorie-free option for people concerned about weight control, is largely inexpensive and is available practically everywhere.
Yet despite 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 needed. Health advocates blame 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," Mrs. Obama's anti-childhood-obesity initiative, cited federal statistics showing that about 40 percent of adults drink fewer than four cups of water daily and that one-fourth of kids below age 19 don't drink any plain water on any given day.
How much water a person should drink daily depends on various factors, including their health, activity level and where they live. Studies have produced varying recommendations over the years, and, in 2004, the Institute of Medicine decided against recommending a daily amount of water. The institute said the average person gets enough water every day from a mix of beverages, including caffeinated ones, and the water that exists in fruits and other foods.
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 and has talked about seeing improvement in her daughters' health after making that change 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 consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest said the message should be to drink less soda.
"Soda and other sugar drinks are one of the biggest promoters of obesity and diabetes, and advocating drinking more actual water and less sugar water is one of the most important messages that 'Let's Move' could deliver," said Michael Jacobson, the center's executive director.
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.
AP Medical Writer Lauran Neergaard in Washington and Associated Press writer Michelle L. Johnson in Milwaukee contributed to this report.