Traverse City Record-Eagle

Food

September 19, 2013

First lady urges marketing of healthy food to kids

WASHINGTON (AP) — Michelle Obama used the power of her bully pulpit Wednesday to push food companies and television broadcasters to do more to promote healthier foods to children — and to do it faster.

Research shows food marketing is a leading cause of childhood obesity because the ads and promotions lead impressionable kids to then pester their parents to eat what they saw on TV, consumer advocates say.

The first lady cited a "cultural shift" taking place in America's eating habits, and highlighted as examples salad bars that are now in many school lunchrooms and kids' restaurant menus that offer such items as broccoli and whole-wheat pasta.

But while she said there has been progress, including slight reductions in childhood obesity rates in a few states and cities, Mrs. Obama noted that "we clearly have much more work to do" when 1 in 3 kids in the U.S. is on track to develop diabetes.

"I'm here today with one simple request and that is to do even more and move even faster to market responsibly to our kids," the first lady said as she opened the first White House summit on the issue. Dozens of representatives from the food and media industries, advocacy and parent groups, government agencies, research institutions and others attended.

The goal, she said, is to "empower parents instead of undermining them" as they try to make the best choices for their families.

A 2006 report by the influential Institute of Medicine concluded that food and beverage marketing to children "represents, at best, a missed opportunity, and, at worst, a direct threat to the health of the next generation."

At the summit, which went into closed session after Mrs. Obama's public remarks, the first lady lauded the Walt Disney Co. for banning junk-food ads from its media channels, websites and theme parks. She also praised the Birds Eye frozen food company for using characters from the Nickelodeon comedy "iCarly" in promotions encouraging kids to eat their veggies.

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