Michelle Obama urges industry to alter marketing efforts

by Keith Nunes
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WASHINGTON — First Lady Michelle Obama emphasized that it is not enough for food and beverage manufacturers to develop healthier products. She said they must also invest additional resources in marketing them. Speaking at the Grocery Manufacturers Association’s Science Forum, held this week in Washington, Ms. Obama discussed the Let’s Move campaign, a nationwide effort to solve the problem of childhood obesity in a generation.

While noting the challenge of addressing childhood obesity is a shared effort among food manufacturers, educators, doctors and parents, she challenged food manufacturers to “move faster and go farther, because the truth is we don’t have a moment to waste — because a baby born today could be less than a decade away from showing the first signs of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, Type II diabetes, if he or she is obese as a child,” she said.

She added that it is not enough for manufacturers to “tweak around the edges,” but to rethink the products being offered, the information provided on them and how they are marketed to children.

“… I understand that this is easier said than done,” Ms. Obama said. “This doesn’t happen overnight. We all know that human beings — I, for one know — are hard-wired to crave sugary, fatty, salty foods. And it is tempting to take advantage of that — to create products that are sweeter, richer and saltier than ever before.
“…but doing so doesn’t just respond to people’s natural inclinations — it also actually helps to shape them. And this can be particularly dangerous when it comes to our kids …”

She said children don’t learn about the latest sweets and snack foods on their own. They hear about the products from advertisements on television, the Internet, video games, schools and other places.
“And any parent knows this marketing is really effective,” she said. “We’ve all had to endure those impassioned ‘please’ in the grocery store for one product or another.”

She praised the industry for voluntarily committing to limit the marketing it does to children, but she added, “…today I want to challenge each and every one of you to go back to your companies, take a look at your marketing budgets and ask some questions. For example when you put money into reformulating a product to make it healthier, do you invest enough in marketing that product to kids and parents? Or is most of the marketing budget still going to the less healthy versions? In other words, which products are you really selling?”

Citing the food and beverage industry’s experience in marketing its products, Ms. Obama said it is not enough to limit advertisements for foods that aren’t healthy. She called for an expansion in the marketing of foods that are healthy.

“…if there is anyone here who can sell food to our kids, it’s you,” she said. “You know what gets their attention. You know what makes a lasting impression. You know what gets them to drive their parents crazy in the grocery store. And I’m here today to ask you to use that knowledge and that power to our kids’ advantage. I’m asking you to actively promote healthy foods and healthy habits to our kids.”
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