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Mrs. Obama Asks Restaurants to Lead Fight against Childhood Obesity

Michelle Obama, official White House portrait.
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Michelle Obama asks restaurant owners to lead the fight against childhood obesity

First lady Michelle Obama encouraged the restaurant industry to lead the effort against childhood obesity in remarks made to the National Restaurant Association’s board of directors Monday. Mrs. Obama met with industry leaders to praise them for the work already done and to stress that the fight is far from over.

“Research shows that kids consume more saturated fat and less fiber and calcium when they eat out, and the meals in restaurants have twice as many calories as the meals they eat at home,” said Mrs. Obama. She added that restaurants are responsible for one-third of the calories kids consume and that the decisions restaurateurs make can have a real impact on the way America’s children eat.

“What I do know is that, in the restaurant industry, creativity is your life blood,” Mrs. Obama said, adding, “It’s what sets you apart from the competition and keeps customers coming back for more. And today I am asking you to use that creativity to rethink the food you offer–especially dishes aimed at young people. And to help us make a healthier choice, the easier choice.”

Speaking at the Capital Hyatt, the first lady said restaurants should offer smaller portion sizes, and more fruit and vegetable offerings, as well as more whole-grain foods. She also took aim at some of the marketing tactics that target children. “Your role in helping address childhood obesity isn’t limited to what you put on your menus and how you label them for parents. It’s also about how you market those products to our kids. Our kids don’t learn about the latest fast food creations on their own. They hear about them on television advertisements and the Internet and video games. And as any parent knows, this marketing is highly effective.”

In March of 2010 the first lady launched her “Let’s Move” campaign to knock out childhood obesity within a generation. Many observers have called Mrs. Obama’s goal highly ambitious, as one out of three children in the U.S. are obese.  Tucson has its own “Let’s Move” campaign happening Sept. 18.

Mrs. Obama lauded the NRA for some of its initiatives. “Here at the NRA, you have developed the Food and Healthy Living Initiative to give restaurants a strong foundation for making healthy changes. You’ve launched a Healthy Diner Finder  website, to help consumers identify healthy menu items in their area,” she said.

The first lady also made it clear that she knew the task at hand was a difficult one. “Believe me, I know this is easier said than done.” Mrs. Obama added, “We as humans are programmed to crave sugary, fatty, salty foods. But here’s the catch: feeding those cravings doesn’t just respond to those people’s natural desires, it actually helps shape them.” The first lady stressed that the good news is that it can work the other way just as easily. “With a little persistence and creativity, we can also turn them on to higher quality, healthy foods.”

Since launching her campaign, Mrs. Obama has made numerous appearances to groups who play a role in feeding America’s children. Her campaign seeks to raise the nutritional level of school meals and to improve the access to healthier food in all neighborhoods. The Let’s Move campaign also seeks to increase the levels of exercise that children get. The first lady has enlisted the help of sports celebrities, entertainers and politicians in her anti-obesity efforts, which often are aimed at parents and teachers.

The NRA has been proactive on healthy initiatives and has worked closely with the U.S Congress for more than two years on the menu-labeling portion of the recently enacted healthcare legislation. The NRA also is a founding partner of Healthy Dining Finder , a search engine for consumers that offers nutritional information from restaurants across the country. More than 70,000 restaurant locations already are signed up. In addition, the NRA is working with the Produce Marketing Association and IFMA on the Foodservice 2020 Initiative, an effort to double the amount of produce used in foodservice within 10 years.

“It is clear that more American consumers are demanding healthy options,” said Dawn Sweeney, president and chief executive officer for the NRA. “The restaurant industry is responding to consumers’ preferences by providing options for their tastes and dietary needs. Offering more menu choices, cooking with healthier ingredients, and providing nutrition information for guests are just a few of the ways restaurants are answering consumers’ interest in more healthful food options.”

Following her speech, Mrs. Obama took time to meet with ProStart students from Maryland as well as several of the NRA’s board members. To view the first lady’s entire address to the National Restaurant Association, visit FoodChannelPRO.com.

  1. Incentives. What’s in it for me. ROI. I am reading the follow-up book to Freakonomics called Super Freakonomics that came out a couple of years ago. Of many things discussed was a study called “Dictator” that was conducted to see if people were naturally “altruistic”. The bottom line is that the study was flawed and later studies found out that people are not altruistic.

    Why do I mention this here? Restaurants are not going to change their behavior unless there is something it it for them. Are they going to lose something, like their reputation, by not making food healthier in their restaurants? OR wiill they gain more something, like increased sales, if they do so.

    McDonalds is doing well with their salads. Believe me, they would drop them like a hot potato if they only took up space on their shelves and did not sell.

    I am into watching TV cooking shows now and there is a trend with some of the chefs to create recipes with less than five ingredients. Why? That is what people want!

    We are all driven by incentives.

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