By Ellen Koteff, editor-in-chief, FoodChannelPRO
Click here to view Part 2 of speech video.
First Lady Michelle Obama told the board of directors of the National Restaurant Association that they need to do more ‘to lead the effort’ in the fight against childhood obesity.
Mrs. Obama praised the foodservice industry for the work it has already done but stressed there was more work to do.
‘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 it 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 on Monday, the First Lady said restaurants should offer smaller portion sizes, 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 with unhealthy menu items.
Marketing also an issue
‘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 TV advertisements and the Internet and video games. And as any parent knows, this marketing is highly effective.’
In March 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. today are obese.
The NRA’s chairman, Michigan-based restaurateur Michael Gibbons, who Mrs. Obama thanked by name, introduced the First Lady to the board. Mrs. Obama also gave a shout-out to Dawn Sweeney, the organization’s president and chief executive.
‘We are honored to partner with the First Lady and work to reduce childhood obesity in a generation,’ said Sweeney. ‘We appreciate this opportunity to share our own progress, as an industry, in the area of health and nutrition with the First Lady.
Praise for NRA initiatives
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, she said. ‘You’ve launched a website, HealthyDiningFinder.com to help consumers identify healthy menu items in their area.’
The First Lady made it clear that she knew the task at hand was a difficult one. ‘Believe me, I know this is easier said than done,’ said Mrs. Obama, adding, ‘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.’ But 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.’
Aside from about 150 board members and several spouses, other industry representatives also were on hand. Larry Oberkfell, who is the chief executive of the International Foodservice Manufacturer’s Association and Anita Jones-Mueller, who is the founder of Healthy Dining and a partner of the NRA, both came to hear the speech as guests of the NRA.
‘What I loved is how she really elaborated on the restaurant industry’s creativity, ‘ said Jones-Mueller. ‘She emphasized the restaurant industry has the power to change the culture so that kids really want the healthier options, and that is good for our kids and our nation.’
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 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. The NRA is also 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 Sweeney. ‘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, which lasted about 20 minutes, Mrs. Obama took time to meet with ProStart culinary students from Maryland as well as several of the NRA’s board members.