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

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Kimberly Seals Allers

I love Michelle Obama. Her strength, professionalism, sass and savvy are enviable. And as a mom, I can only applaud her efforts to reduce the embarrassingly high obesity rates in this country. Earlier this month 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 market the healthy food to children, instead of the red-dye, high sodium, high calories crap they usually market to our children.

Now I can certainly understand that the First Lady has to ask everybody to join in 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."

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 was like asking the healthcare companies to support health care reform with a public option. It was never going to happen. These corporations are big businesses looking for a profitable business model that works. 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 their 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. This is particularly true in our community where studies show that almost 36 percent of black children between the ages of six and eleven are overweight, and more than 19 percent are considered obese. Among twelve- to nineteen-year-olds, 40 percent are overweight and nearly 24 percent are obese.

More importantly, we as black mothers have to set a good example by modeling healthy living and healthy eating ourselves. Our own health impacts our children from pregnancy through adulthood.

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 gimmicks such as a food maker marketing one healthy aspect (such as adding 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 with ingredients you can’t even pronounce (Someone please ask the good folks at Hooked on Phonics to produce a special edition to help us get through our food labels).

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

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