WASHINGTON (AP)— A review of steps that retailers, restaurants and others are taking as part of Michelle Obama’s campaign to reduce childhood obesity.
Walmart pledged in January 2011 to reformulate its store-brand, packaged foods by cutting sodium 25 percent and added sugars by 10 percent, and removing all remaining industrially produced trans fats by 2015. Leslie Dach, the company’s executive vice president, said sodium in packaged bread has been cut by 13 percent; added sugar in refrigerated flavored milk, popular with children, has been cut by more than 17 percent; and sugar and sodium in bottled spaghetti sauce has been reduced by 15 percent and 4-5 percent, respectively.
Walmart also has begun labeling the fronts of hundreds of its store-brand products with a special “Great for You” seal designed to help shoppers easily identify healthier foods.
Michelle Obama actively campaigned behind the scenes in 2010 for a child nutrition law, which passed in the final days of a Democratic-controlled House. The law helped schools pay for healthier lunches and also set new nutrition requirements for all foods in schools.
Congressional Republicans fought the bill and later rolled back some of the Agriculture Department’s efforts to get rid of junk food in the school lunch line. As directed by the new law, USDA last month proposed new requirements to make school vending machines and “a la carte lines” healthier as well.
The association, which represents Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, now also puts calorie labels on the front of cans, bottles and packs, fulfilling its pledge to do so.
This coalition of retailers, and food and beverage manufacturers, said in 2010 that it would remove 1.5 trillion calories from their products by 2015 — about 12.5 calories per person per day. The group said it couldn’t comment on its progress, but has a report due out this year. The nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is monitoring the overall effort.
The chain pledged in September 2011 to cut calories and sodium in all meals by 10 percent by 2016, and by 20 percent by 2021, and to serve all kids’ meals with a side of fruit or vegetables and glass of 1 percent milk, unless an adult asks for a substitution.
Spokesman Rich Jeffers said the changes to kids’ meals are complete at Darden’s four restaurant brands that serve children: Olive Garden, Red Lobster, LongHorn Steakhouse and Bahama Breeze. Jeffers said the company, which also has four other restaurant brands, is “on track” to meet its calorie- and sodium-cutting goals.
Other restaurants also have pledged to improve their children’s menus.
Partners in the initiative — the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, the United Fresh Produce Association Foundation, the Food Family Farming Foundation and the Whole Kids Foundation — set a goal in November 2010 of putting 6,000 salad bars in school lunchrooms by the end of 2013.
More than 2,100 salad bars have been funded, and more than 2,500 are expected to be in schools by May, said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president for nutrition and health at United Fresh Produce Association.
Food and Drug Administration officials said at the beginning of Obama’s first term that they were working on standards for front-of-package calorie labels, and Michelle Obama encouraged the industry to be more upfront with nutritional information to make it easier for shoppers to know what they are buying.
A food industry coalition later developed its own voluntary front-of-package labels, saying Mrs. Obama’s encouragement inspired the effort. FDA officials have since backed off their attempt to mandate the nutrition labels for the fronts of packages.
Last year the association created 4,647 tennis courts sized for children ages 10 and under after committing to creating just 3,200, said spokesman Barry Ford. It also donated $285,000 worth of tennis equipment to schools and youth facilities nationwide; the association had pledged to donate $150,000 worth of equipment, Ford said.
Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Supervalu and several smaller grocers committed to build or expand 1,500 stores in areas with limited or no access to healthy food, areas the Agriculture Department calls "food deserts.’’
Wal-Mart, which announced it would open 275-300 such stores by the end of 2016, had opened 86 by the end of last year, said Dach, the executive vice president. Supervalu has opened 69 of the 250 Save-A-Lot stores it pledged to build by 2016, said spokesman Mike Siemienas.
Walgreens declined to say how many of the 1,000 stores it promised by 2016 have been built.
*Pictured above is First Lady Michele Obama.