The Let’s Move! champion and First Lady Michelle Obama held a food marketing summit Wednesday with representatives from food, beverage, media and entertainment companies.
Obama noted progress that has been made in the country’s ongoing fight against rising obesity rates and said she’s open to a “lively and constructive dialogue about how we market food to children.”
But the meeting wasn’t a call to stop marketing junk food to kids; it was a call to begin marketing healthy foods to children.
Obama said that before moving to the White House, she, like many other parents, needed quick, easy meal solutions, and the food industry provided them. But as she started looking at the labels, she became concerned, and told attendees that the food not only needs to be quick and easy but also healthy for families—and attractive to kids.
“Once again, moms like me are relying on you to actually help our kids get excited about eating that food,” she said. “That’s why I wanted to bring all of you together today because you guys know better than anyone how to get kids excited. You’ve done it before, and we need you to do it again.”
Obama told food marketers that they have the “power to shape our kids tastes and desires” more than any other entity. She noted that children “believe just about everything they see and hear—especially if it’s on TV.”
According to Obama, the average child is spending eight hours a day in front of some type of electronic screen, making them particularly susceptible to marketing campaigns that flood those screens. Obama targeted more than television ads to include ads on the internet, billboards, store displays and more.
“Eighty-six percent of these ads are for products loaded with sugar, fat, salt,” she said. “By contrast, our kids see an average of just one ad a week for healthy products like water or fruits and vegetables…as you all know, these ads work.”
She applauded the 17 food and beverage companies that formed the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), which was formed in 2006. The Council of Better Business Bureaus says the 17 companies represent about 80 percent of child-directed television food advertising and, as part of the pledge, have agreed to devote 100 percent of their advertising to better-for-you food—or stop advertising on television. The CFBAI includes Burger King Corp., Kraft Foods Group, Campbell Soup Co., Mars Inc., The Coca-Cola Co., McDonald’s USA, ConAgra Foods Inc., Mondelez Global LLC, The Dannon Co., Nestlé USA, General Mills Inc., PepsiCo Inc., The Hershey Co., Post Foods LLC, Hillshire Brands, Unilever U.S. and Kellogg Co. ]
Not marketing unhealthy food isn’t enough
She commended the companies’ resolution to limit marketing unhealthy foods, “but of course, while limiting the marketing of unhealthy foods is critical, it’s not enough. We also need companies to actually market healthy foods to kids, foods that have real nutritional value, foods that are fortified with real fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy.”
Aware that manufacturers are concerned about the bottom line, Obama said marketing healthy foods can be profitable, using Bird’s Eye’s recent campaign as an example. In the campaign, Bird’s Eye uses characters from iCarly, a children’s show, “and their sales jumped 20 percent in just two months,” she said.
She said she felt confident that companies would do this, since the recent launch of the Drink Up! campaign already has several marketers on board.
Addressing the media and entertainment attendees, Obama asked them to limit the use and license of their characters for unhealthy food marketing and limiting unhealthy food ads in their programs, and instead use their characters to promote healthy food.
Obama said she is not asking food companies to “take all the fun out of childhood. As we all know, treats are one of the best parts of being a kid. Instead, the goal here is to empower parents instead of undermining them as they try to make healthier choices for their families.”
Obama hopes to see a “dramatic shift” in marketing dollars in the next decade or so, with more investment in healthy food products.
She further incentivized companies by saying that these decisions are important for the workforce of tomorrow, which, if healthier eating habits are adapted, could experience fewer “obesity-related” issues, such as absenteeism, healthcare costs and more.
“Today’s unhealthy kids grow into unhealthy adults who become employees of tomorrow,” Obama said. She added a note of hope for attendees: “Healthy eating is starting to become the new norm for our kids,” which could have a “serious effect” on later eating habits, she said.
The feature photo at top by Bob Nichols.