At a recent summit on food marketing held at the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama made “one simple request: and that is to do even more and move even faster to market responsibly to our kids.”

Delivering the opening remarks at the inaugural White House Convening on Food Marketing to Children, Mrs. Obama—an advocate for the Let’s Move! campaign to end childhood obesity—called on members of the media and entertainment industry as well as food and beverage companies to renew their efforts to promote healthier eating.

The First Lady acknowledged the efforts of several marketers and food companies that have already worked to decrease advertising targeted to children. In addition to the 17 companies that have signed on to the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative and have adopted standards for child-directed marketing, she referenced the Walt Disney Company’s decision to phase out ads for junk food from its theme parks, Web sites, and media channels.

“I know this wasn’t easy,” she said. “Forging consensus among fierce competitors is a challenge to say the least. But these new standards are beginning to have an impact, and I commend all of these companies for taking action.

“But of course, while limiting the marketing of unhealthy food is critical, it’s not enough,” the First Lady added. “We also need companies to actually market healthy foods to kids—foods that have real nutritional value, foods that are fortified with real fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy.

Children spend almost eight hours a day in front of some kind of screen and as a result view thousands of food advertisements each year, she said. Eighty-six percent of those ads are for products loaded with sugar, fat, and salt, while the average child sees just one ad per week for a healthy product like water, fruit, or vegetables.

The First Lady asked attendees “to actually use your licensed characters to promote healthy food” and to create “demand for health foods so that kids actually start ‘pestering’ us for those foods in the grocery store.”  Profits will follow, she said, citing a recent campaign by Birds Eye Vegetables, which featured characters from the popular kids’ show iCarly. The company saw an increase in sales of 50 percent over a twomonth period.

“If anyone can get our kids to eat their vegetables, it’s all of you,” she said. To read the text of Mrs. Obama’s remarks, click here.  

Why it matters: The First Lady urged representatives from food and beverage companies and the media and entertainment industry to take part in what she characterized as a “cultural shift” in the country in which consumers are making healthier choices about food. Analogizing to the rise of “going green,” Mrs. Obama suggested that “this societal challenge” could be seized “as an unprecedented business opportunity.”  Some advocates for federal legislation aimed at regulation of childdirected advertising saw her comments as an indication the Administration may take a closer look at the issue. “I think this is a starting point,” Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the L.A. Times. “For the first lady and the White House saying they are going to focus on food marketing and make it a priority, that’s significant.”