It’s a sunny day here in Red Pill Ville, not just because it’s gorgeous outside, but because the First Lady, Michelle Obama, has spoken directly and forcefully to the world’s largest food producers, without sugar-coating her words: “I’m here today to urge all of you to move faster and to 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.”
This message was delivered in a speech to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, a trade group of some 300 food, beverage and consumer products makers, which includes companies such as PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Kraft, Krispy Kreme, McDonald’s, and ConAgra.
Red Pill Mama and I have been writing about many of the issues related to childhood obesity since starting The Red Pill Parents in November 2009. We have covered the link between watching television commercials and childhood obesity (“New Study Links Commercials in TV (Not Watching TV) to Obesity”), the proposed soda tax (“Will a Big Gulp Tax Make a Dent in Childhood Obesity?” ) and cereal manufacturers’ voluntary reduction in the sugar content of breakfast cereals (“Will Your Kids Still Be KooKoo For Cocoa Puffs?”).
“We need you not just to tweak around the edges, but to entirely rethink the products that you’re offering, the information that you provide about these products, and how you market those products to our children,” the First Lady said. “Adding a little bit of Vitamin C” to an inherently unhealthy product “doesn’t suddenly make these products good for our kids.”
Surprisingly, members of the Grocery Manufacturers of America took Mrs. Obama’s comments sitting down and in good humor. While members of the GMA have been attacked for years by groups such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest for fattening our kids, leaving them more prone to food-triggered disease, and employing advanced marketing techniques to ensure that children nag their parents for these unwholesome foods (been to the grocery store with your five-year-old lately?), the First Lady’s helming of the issue is almost guaranteed to produce real results. While on this topic, it’s hard for me to skip the subject of marketing to kids without urging our readers to check out the eye-opening Red Pill Parent ‘bible’ on the subject, Consuming Kids: Protecting Our Children from the Onslaught of Marketing & Advertising by Susan Linn.
So, as Red Pill Parents, what can we expect to see as a result of this Presidential push? Carrot sticks packaged in a kid-friendly way with snappy advertising touting the benefits of beta-carotene? Boxes of baked whole grain crackers minus the current copious amounts of salt and fats? New ways of marketing heart-healthy, cholesterol-fighting, slow-cooked oatmeal to breakfast eaters? The jury is still out. And judging by past experience, let’s not underestimate the craftiness (no pun intended) of food manufacturers who slap “healthy” labels on packages of snack foods that have no real nutritional value or healthful benefits.
In his book, The End of Overeating, David Kessler, the former FDA commissioner under presidents Bush and Clinton, repeatedly talks about the endless combinations of salt, fat and sugar that food companies put in their products, and the effect that they have of short-circuiting the body’s mechanisms of appetite and satisfaction regulation. Michelle Obama specifically asked the companies she was addressing to cut out these practices and formulate products with more nutritious ingredients.
We all know that knowledge is power, and the messages of grass roots organizations who have been pressuring and calling out food manufacturers for years are finding a larger audience, thanks in part to the Internet and a recent boom in the number of books, movies and television programs dedicated to educating the American consumer. The Oscar nomination of the movie “Food, Inc.” and best selling books by authors such as Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Food Rules) and Barbara Kingsolver (Animal, Vegetable, Miracle) are making it harder and harder for manufacturers to hide behind their large farm equipment and boxes of salted and sugared fat. And what better person to receive this scolding from, than Mama Obama!
Only time will tell if Obama’s scolding will have an effect on food manufacturers’ behavior. But in the meantime, we can continue to back up her stance by using the power of our purses at the grocery store — choosing not to buy the products that have fattened their wallets at the expense of our childrens’ health.
~ Red Pill Papa