WASHINGTON — Michelle Obama called on members of the Grocery Manufacturers of America last week “to move faster and to go farther” in efforts to reformulate their products and develop healthier alternatives for kids as part of a national effort to reduce childhood obesity.
Speaking at GMA's Science Forum here, Obama said, “We need you not just to tweak around the edges but also to entirely rethink the products you're offering, the information you provide about these products and how you market these products to our children.
“We need clear, consistent, front-of-the-package labels that give people the information they've been asking for in a format they understand. Folks just don't have the time to line products up side by side and figure out whether they compare, and they shouldn't need a magnifying glass and a calculator to make healthy choices for their kids.
“So I'm pleased GMA has committed to working with the Food and Drug Administration to develop these labels.”
In introductory remarks, Richard G. Wolford, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Del Monte Foods Co., and chairman of the GMA board, said the industry has committed itself to reversing obesity, especially childhood obesity, by 2015.
“For the first time, government, the food and beverage industry, parents and other stakeholders are all on the same page [with] the same goal: to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation,” Wolford said.
“We are committed to working with the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that industry makes the best use of the front of the product label to provide clear and useful science- and fact-based nutrition information.”
In her speech, Obama mentioned the FDA plans to begin meeting with CPG companies this fall “to begin pursuing voluntary agreements” to produce and market healthier products.
“There's no reason why we cannot find common ground on this issue,” she said. “This is the bare minimum we should do for our kids — to help their parents make good choices. This is a shared responsibility, so we need all of you to step it up,” Obama said.
She acknowledged that human beings “are hard-wired to crave sugary, fatty, salty foods,” and it's often easier to cater to those cravings than to offer healthier options.
“But the only way we can do this is to work together. This needs to be a serious, industrywide commitment to providing the healthier foods parents are looking for at prices they can afford. It's going to take a lot of tries to come up with products that are both healthy and still palatable for our kids, and that may mean some real creativity and effort on your part.
“But it doesn't mean taking out one problematic ingredient [and replacing] it with another, and it doesn't mean compensating for high amounts of problematic ingredients with small amounts of beneficial ones.
“This isn't about finding creative ways to market products as healthy. It's about producing products that actually are healthy — products that can help shape the health habits of an entire generation.”