Michelle Obama Urges Food Industry to Help Combat Childhood Obesity

In her campaign to combat childhood obesity—which has tripled over the past three decades—Michelle Obama addressed the nation’s food industry for the first time on Tuesday, urging them to produce healthier foods and reduce marketing of unhealthy food to children.  She spoke to the members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, including major industry players Kraft Foods, Coca-Cola and General Mills.

The first lady remarked, “We need you not to just tweak around the edges but entirely rethink the products you are offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children.”

Embracing Michelle Obama’s campaign for healthier kids could offer significant opportunities and advantages to food companies.  With a child nutrition bill moving through Congress that could eliminate junk food in schools, the FDA crackdown on misleading labeling on food packages and the Senate mulling over a tax on soda and sweetened drinks to help pay for healthcare reform, it’s looking as though the food industry may take a financial hit if they proceed with business as usual.

While some states and municipalities are already creating standards for making and marketing foods, more uniform federal standards could be helpful to food companies, especially since many of these companies have multiple locations across the nation.

A few corporations are leading the way by voluntarily committing to limit their marketing of unhealthy food to children, but the first lady cited studies showing that 70 percent of foods marketed to kids is unhealthy. 

Mrs. Obama asked companies to increase marketing for healthy foods instead of finding creative ways to market products as healthy.  She also requested that the companies create less confusing food labels and portion sizes, and reduce the fat, salt and sugar content in foods marketed to kids.

By providing healthier foods at affordable prices, food companies could gain the trust and patronage of parents and schools around the nation, which will likely pay off more than getting caught in the undertow of legislation.

Members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association gave Mrs. Obama a standing ovation.  Rick Wolford, chairman and CEO of Del Monte Foods Co. and chairman of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, said that this is “a watershed moment in the fight against obesity.”

Video of Michelle Obama’s campaign, “Let’s Move!”:

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