Saturday, March 09, 2013

Michelle Obama Keynotes Childhood Obesity Summit: Parents And Corporations Are Responsible For Ending America's Epidemic

Food corporations have a "moral responsibility" to help harried parents, First Lady says...
Washington, DC - First Lady Michelle Obama on Friday laid out her vision for an America where children are "begging" for vegetables and food companies are actively promoting healthier choices as she delivered the keynote address at the Building a Healthier Future Summit, hosted by Partnership for a Healthier America, the foundation created to support her Let's Move! campaign.  (Above, Mrs. Obama during her remarks)

As the next wave of action for her childhood obesity campaign, newly in its fourth year, Mrs. Obama called for sweeping changes in "the information landscape" that is available to parents, arguing that grocery markets and restaurant menus should be engineered with choice architecture in mind, which includes everything from altering product placements to creating improved advertising and information campaigns.

"I mean, just think for a minute what this country could look like,” Mrs. Obama told a few hundred activists, academics, medical professionals and business and philanthropic leaders gathered at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium.

"Imagine walking into any grocery store in America and finding the healthiest options clearly marked and centrally placed so that you know within seconds what’s good for your family when you walk in that store," Mrs. Obama said. "Imagine opening up a menu in any restaurant and knowing exactly what items will give your family the most nutrition for your hard-earned dollar."

"Imagine our kids begging and pleading, throwing tantrums to get you to buy more fruits, vegetables and whole grainsYes, this is possible.  It is possible to create this world!”

The Obama Administration last made an effort to woo corporations into voluntarily limiting their advertising to children in 2011, which caused an outcry from the food industry, and the effort was abandoned.  There was also some limited Administration efforts to get uniform nutrition labeling on the front of food packages after Let's Move! was launched in 2010, but this, too, fell to the wayside.  Placing calorie counts on the menus of chain restaurants was included in President Obama's healthcare act.

So for anyone still hoping that the Administration will take another pass at the battles, or that President Obama will do something kooky like issue an Executive Order designed to reduce America's childhood obesity prevalence, Mrs. Obama had some bad news:  Ending childhood obesity is up to parents. And it's up to businesses to take action because they feel a "moral obligation" to support parents' efforts, she said. 

"At the end of the day, when it comes to the health of our kids, no one has a greater impact than each of us do as parents," Mrs. Obama said. "We know that families play a uniquely important role in the work that we’re all doing." 

But, she added, "Unfortunately, over the past 50 years, it’s gotten a whole lot harder for many families to make healthy choices."

Mrs. Obama laid some of the the blame for America's obesity rate--currently at 17% for children ages 2-20--on the food industry, chastising companies for confusing harried, overworked parents with "mouthwatering" images of high-calorie foods on restaurant menus, and creating package information that doesn't spotlight nutrition.  She gave food corporations specific marching orders: Websites and "pamphlets" aren't useful, Mrs. Obama said, but real point-of-sale information is.

"What is helpful is to provide families with the information they need when they need it," Mrs. Obama said.  "We need to offer parents clear information at the moment when they’re actually deciding what to buy, cook and order for their kids."

"When we talk about giving parents better information, we’re not just talking about obvious things like food labels," Mrs. Obama added. "We’re also talking about the more subtle messages that shape our decisions every day...Whether a product is shelved right at eye level or lower to the ground, where you have to bend over and reach it, and if you’re bending over, you’re not going to get it." 

"Whether the produce aisle is the first aisle to greet you when you enter the store, or the last aisle you pass on your way out when you’re already running late to get home for the babysitter."

Mrs. Obama saluted some of the companies that have made commitments to her campaign, holding them up as examples of what can be accomplished.

"Fortunately, a number of companies have stepped up to set new standards for responsible marketing," Mrs. Obama said.  "Disney is cutting all advertisements for unhealthy foods from their children’s programming.  Mars, Hershey and Pepsi have stopped targeting certain products to children under the age of 12." 
  In the year ahead, Mrs. Obama said, she will focus on encouraging more businesses to help parents, by offering "more information, responsible marketing, with better labels and product placement, with greater access and affordability." 

"The truth is, it isn’t rocket science," Mrs. Obama said.  

"We have everything we need right here and right now to make this happen.  We just have to summon the focus and the will.  And everyone has to make supporting healthy families their top priority going forward." 

Mrs. Obama pushed the same messages about parental and corporate responsibility during last week's tour for the third anniversary of her campaign, when she visited Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri for celebratory events that spotlighted the role of parents, schools, and the businesses that have signed on with commitments, such as grocery giant Walmart, which not only got a visit from Mrs. Obama, but was also the subject of an OpEd in The Wall Street Journal.   

During the two-day conference, held at the Grand Hyatt in DC, Partnership for a Healthier America issued a progress report on the commitments to Let's Move! from the private sector.  There are now more than 50 partners, and during her remarks, Mrs. Obama announced one more:  Reebok has joined Let's Move! with a $30 million, three-year commitment to support the newest fitness initaitve, Let's Move! Active Schools.  NIKE, Inc. has also pledged $50 million for the effort.  

NY Giants quarterback Eli Manning, the brand ambassador for Reebok, and Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker, the honorary vice-chair for the Partnership, also spoke at the event.

Mrs. Obama departed immediately after her speech, heading for the State Department for an event with Secretary of State John Kerry

*The transcript of the First Lady's remarks.

CLICK HERE for all posts about the summit.

*Photos by pool