Memo to Michelle Obama: Big Food Makers Don't Give a Fructose About Our Kids

Kimberly Seals Allers


Photo by Chandra Lanier

I love Michelle Obama. Her strength, professionalism, savvy, and mom moxie are enviable. And as a mom, I can only applaud her efforts to reduce the embarrassingly high obesity rates in this country. Earlier this week she spoke at the Grocery Manufacturers Association meeting and asked big food companies like General Mills, Kraft Foods, and Coca-Cola to produce more healthful food. What chutzpah!

Then she went one step further by asking the food companies to then actually market the healthy food to children, instead of the typical red-dye, high sodium, high calorie crap they usually market to our children.

Now I can certainly understand that the First Lady has to ask everybody to join the fight against obesity. It is certainly an all-hands-on-deck type of goal. But if she really thinks big food companies will actually do something, then I'm a little concerned.

I'm hoping she figured, "Well, the event is in D.C., and I won’t have to miss school pick-up so ... what the heck."

Remember the multi-billion-dollar kick in the bottom line it took for the tobacco industry to actually clean up their act? Big business, no matter what public relations spin they try to put on it, only acts in its own self interest. That interest is to keep shareholders happy and CEOs happier with fat paychecks and even fatter bonuses. My child's health is the last thing on the mind.

Thankfully it is the first thing on my mind. That's why it is really my responsibility and that of every other parent to make sure their child has a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. I appreciate that the First Lady has to make all the appropriate rounds (and like I said, no out of town trip required) but no parent or reasonable adult should ever expect big business (or government, for that matter) to do what we need to do for ourselves and our children. That is, take back our power as parents and as the CNO (chief nutrition officer) in our homes.  When your child begs for unhealthy crap, try this novel approach and simply utter, “No!” and actually mean it. Or better, say, "Yes," but only once in a while.

Attention world, here's how to get the food makers on board: Stop buying the unhealthy stuff. When they lose the financial incentive for making unhealthy food options then they will stop. Period. When we educate ourselves as parents so that, as Mrs. Obama noted, we don't fall for a food maker marketing one healthy aspect (such as add one gram of fiber) while doubling the calories, then they will be forced to clean up their act. Until then it's just photo opps, PR spin, and back to the sodium-laden processed foods.

That's fine for them. But we, as moms, have plenty of work to do. Let's get down to our big business.   

The truth is, big food makers are not going to kill their cash cow by actually making healthier food, especially when making the unhealthy stuff is so cheap and rakes in serious money.   I mean, hey, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? That's like asking the healthcare companies to support health care reform. These corporations are big businesses looking for a business model that works.

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