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Michelle Obama tells food industry to market healthier foods

by Joan Murphy | March 16, 2010
WASHINGTON -- First lady Michelle Obama has urged the packaged food industry to move faster in reformulating healthy foods and to dig deeper and spend more money on advertising healthy foods to children.

Just a little more than a month after kicking off her "Let's Move" campaign, when she pledged to solve the obesity crisis in a generation and provide more access to fresh, nutritious foods to children, Ms. Obama told a Grocery Manufacturers Association meeting March 16 to "step up" marketing healthy foods.

"That starts with revamping or ramping up your efforts to reformulate your products, particularly those aimed at kids, so that they have less fat, salt and sugar, and more of the nutrients that our kids need," she told more than 200 food industry executives. But the food industry should not take one bad ingredient out and replace it with another. "While decreasing fat is certainly a good thing, replacing it with sugar and salt isn't," she stated.

She also challenged the food industry to spend more money on marketing the newly reformulated healthy products to kids. "So let's be clear -- it's not enough just to limit ads for foods that aren't healthy. It's going to be so critical to increase marketing for foods that are healthy," she said.

While Ms. Obama's message may represent a challenge to the packaged food industry, her message means that the fresh produce industry is in prime position to further the administration's health priorities.

"We don't have to reformulate our products," Tom Stenzel, United Fresh Produce Association's president and chief executive officer, told The Produce News after her speech here.

Changing eating habits means better access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and the produce industry can point to successes, he said. It started with the school-aged children's access to fresh produce in the school snack program and is now reaching younger children and mothers through the new fruits and vegetables available under the Women, Infants & Children federal feeding program, known as the WIC program, he said.

Although Ms. Obama did not mention United's campaign to bring fruit and vegetable salad bars to schools across America in her speech to the food industry, she told a March 3 meeting of the School Nutrition Association that the administration wants to help schools purchase new equipment, including salad bars.

United is hoping to sway the first lady to take up the salad bar initiative as part of her anti-obesity campaign, said Mr. Stenzel.