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Michelle Obama tells food makers to move faster to curb child obesity

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WASHINGTON -- First lady Michelle Obama urged the nation's food industry on Tuesday to "step it up" and move faster to create and market healthier foods to kids, her toughest speech yet in her anti-childhood-obesity campaign.

"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," Mrs. Obama said.

She delivered her speech to the Grocery Manufacturers Association here, a trade group of some 300 food, beverage and consumer products makers. Chicago area based Kraft and McDonald's are among the members.

Though Mrs. Obama embraced childhood obesity as a signature project on Feb. 9, the issues of obesity, marketing of certain foods to kids and labeling have been around for several years.

Hoping to avoid government intervention -- such as taxes on junk foods -- or more regulation, members of the group in recent years have voluntarily changed the recipes of 10,000 products to cut fats, sugar, sodium and calories. Members also have reduced ads targeting certain products to youngsters.

While the GMA has signed on as a backer of Mrs. Obama's "Let's Move" campaign, she came to the association to tell them it's time for deeper changes.

"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," she said.

Products aimed at kids need to have less fat, salt and sugar and more nutrients, she said. And it doesn't mean decreasing problematic ingredients "with small amounts of beneficial ones." Adding "a little bit of Vitamin C" to a product loaded with sugar "doesn't suddenly make these products good for our kids,'' she said.

The association was eager to work with Mrs. Obama, who is not pushing any particular congressional action or mandate. Scott Faber, GMA's vice president for federal affairs said, "We never had this type of leadership from the White House."

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on March 17, 2010 11:54 AM.

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