Michelle Obama is set to "embark on a national tour this week to promote and celebrate her Let's Move initiative", her efforts to promote more healthful eating habits and reduce childhood obesity. She appeared on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts and appeared with Rachael Ray at an event in Clinton, Miss at an event promoting healthy school lunches.
"We've really changed the conversation in this country. When we started, there were a lot of people in this country who would have never thought that childhood obesity was a health crisis. But now we're starting to see some movement on this issue," the first lady told Roberts. "Our kids are eating better at school. They're moving more. And we're starting…to see a change in the trends. We're starting to see rates of obesity coming down like never before."But in what should prove to be a very shrewd move, Mrs. Obama has written an Op-Ed piece that appears in today's Wall Street Journal that makes the case where this issue ultimately will be decided: the business case. If businesses can't make money selling healthy food, it's a doomed initiative (and I have criticized the First Lady's efforts in this regard in the past because of the agricultural subsidies the government provides to Big Ag making junky food cheap and affordable). So it is with great pleasure that I read this op-ed making this case.
"What we're seeing is that there's hope, and when a nation comes together, and everyone is thinking about this issue and trying to figure out what role they can play, then we can see changes," she said.
But thanks to businesses across the country, today we are proving the conventional wisdom wrong. Every day, great American companies are achieving greater and greater success by creating and selling healthy products. In doing so, they are showing that what's good for kids and good for family budgets can also be good for business.Some examples she points out:
• Walmart has reduced the costs of fruits and vegetable by $2.3 billion and lowered total sugar by 10% in its products.
• Walmart has opened 86 stores in underserved communities and instituted a labeling program to help identify healthy food.
• Walgreens, Disney, and restaurants across the country all are selling healthier food.
(Excessive sugar and lack of access to fresh food are two of my pet peeves so it really pleases me to see those emphasized).
But here is the information that will garner the attention of businesses: it's better for their bottom lines, and not just those that sell these products but all companies.
These companies and so many others are responding to clear trends in consumer demand. Today, 82% of consumers feel that it's important for companies to offer healthy products that fit family budgets, according to the Edelman public relations firm. Meanwhile, a study conducted by Nielsen revealed that even when many families are operating on tight budgets, sales of fresh produce actually increased by 6% in 2012. And in 2011, the Hudson Institute reported that in recent years, healthier foods have generated more than 70% of the growth in sales for consumer packaged-goods companies—and when these companies sell a high percentage of healthier foods, they deliver significantly higher returns to their shareholders.Studies! Statistics! Backup! It cannot be ignored!
These trends don't just matter for businesses that produce and sell food. They matter for every business in America. We spend $190 billion a year treating obesity-related health conditions like diabetes and heart disease, and a significant portion of those costs are borne by America's businesses. That's on top of other health-related costs like higher absenteeism and lower worker productivity, costs that will continue to rise and threaten the vitality of American businesses until this problem is solved once and for all.
This initiative by First Lady Michelle Obama was not one that would garner quick results, but heading into the President's second term, it is finally starting to show a payoff, with reductions in childhood obesity already taking place. But the bottom line is the bottom line- Money talks and this will get business' attention.