Currently browsing posts about: Obama

Dec 16 2013

The White House does Xmas

Along with thousands of others, I got to attend one of the glittery White House holiday parties last week.  The President, just back from South Africa, made a brief appearance.

My favorite: Bill Yosses’ pastry-and-candy White House mounted on a fireplace of cookie tiles, some in classic Dutch style but with Washington DC scenes replacing windmills.

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And the cookies!  They were in endless supply, crisp and delicious.   They mystery: how they get produced in this quantity.  Even by New York City standards, the White House kitchen is small.

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In a year notable for government inaction on crucial legislation, the party was a welcome respite.  As today’s New York Times puts it, 

the lack of movement in the Senate is only half the story of a Congress that has reached record levels of inactivity. Lawmakers simply are not spending as much time in Washington for many reasons, including a distaste for the contentious atmosphere that a deeply divided government has created and the demands of a fund-raising schedule…There was no agreement on a farm bill that would provide agricultural subsidies as well as food stamps for poor families.

Happy holidays.

Sep 19 2013

White House Convening on Food Marketing to Children

If kids really are to eat more healthfully, food and beverage companies have to stop pushing products at them.  But if companies don’t market to kids, they lose money.  Regulation would solve the problem, but is not politically feasible.  Voluntary efforts are limited to companies that agree to participate.   Short of regulation, what more can be done?

This invitation felt like history in the making.  I accepted with pleasure.

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Mrs. Obama’s speech alone was well worth the trip.

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You can see it for yourself thanks to Eddie Gehman Kohan, who posted a video and a transcript of the speech on her ObamaFoodorama site.

Here is a small excerpt:

And I’m here today with one simple request — and that is to do even more and move even faster to market responsibly to our kids…the goal here is to empower parents instead of undermining them as they try to make healthier choices for their families.  And we need you to lead the way in creating demand for healthy foods so that kids actually start “pestering” us for those foods in the grocery store.  And then parents actually start buying them, and then companies have incentives to make and sell even more of those foods.

And ideally, in a decade or so, we would see a dramatic shift across the entire industry.  We’d see companies shifting marketing dollars away from those less healthy products and investing those dollars in your healthier products instead…See, the decisions that you make about marketing won’t just affect what our kids are eating today — those decisions are going to also affect the health of your workforce tomorrow…. You see, over the past few years, we’ve seen some real changes in the foods our kids are eating, starting from the time they’re born…this isn’t just some passing trend or fad.

So there might be those out there whose strategy is to just wait this out — folks who might still be thinking to themselves, well, in a few years, this lady will be gone — (laughter) — and this whole Let’s Move thing will finally be over, so we can go back to business as usual.  And I know that none of you here are thinking that way.  (Laughter.)  But if you know anyone who is — (laughter) — you might want to remind them that I didn’t create this issue, and it’s not going to go away three and a half years from now when I’m no longer First Lady.

Obama Foodorama also posts the list of who attended.  This was a diverse group of representatives of the food industry, trade associations, media, government agencies, private organizations, and universities who sought common ground.

A few points seemed clear from the discussion:

  • Some food companies are making substantial progress in trying to reduce their marketing of less healthful foods.
  • Advocates wish they would do more, faster.
  • The business barriers are formidable.

I think it’s wonderful that the First Lady is taking on this critical topic, impressive that such diverse opinions were represented, and remarkable that this meeting, if nothing else, holds the possibility of opening the door to further discussion.

An open door is needed.  As Bill Dietz, a former CDC official who was at the meeting, told FoodNavigator: “the food industry has repeatedly thwarted federal efforts to curb food marketing to kids.”

Center for Science in the Public Interest has some suggestions for what the next steps should be.

Cheers to Let’s Move! for taking this on.

Jul 24 2013

Michele Obama to La Raza: Hold companies responsible for what they make and market to kids

It’s been more than three years since Michele Obama’s speech to the Grocery Manufacturers Association about the unhealthy effects of their food marketing on kids.

But she’s back, this time talking to an audience representing specific targets of food industry marketing—Hispanics.

In a speech to the National Council of La Raza, she said:

While we still have a long way to go, the good news is that right now, we have everything we need to reclaim our children’s health — that is, if we’re willing to step up and continue to do our part in our own families and communities.

And that starts by using our power as consumers to hold companies responsible for the food they make and how they market it to our kids.

In 2008 alone, companies spent well over half a billion dollars on food, beverage and restaurant ads in Latino media markets — many of them for unhealthy products.

And those of us with kids who have seen our kids begging and pleading for something they saw on TV, we know just how persuasive these ads can be.

So we all know that the food industry has some serious work to do when it comes to how they market food to our kids.

But here’s the thing — ultimately, we all have the power to decide whether or not to actually buy those foods…Goya can produce low-sodium products, but if we don’t buy them, they will stop selling them….

In the end, we create the demand for these products and it’s up to us to demand quality, affordable food that is good for our kids.  But it’s on us.  (Applause)

OK, so she’s not exactly calling for boycotts or talking about legislation that might put some limits on food industry marketing.  But reading between the lines, it comes pretty close.

(Applause) indeed!

Mar 25 2013

White House weakened food safety rules

I subscribe to Food Chemical News, at great expense but for good reason.  On Friday, I received this alert addressed to Dear Subscriber:

Food Chemical News has discovered a stunning set of documents, made available by the Department of Health and Human Services as part of a transparency initiative, that prove FDA was forced by the White House Office of Management and Budget to remove certain elements from the draft of its FDA Food Safety Modernization Act preventive controls proposal. It had long been speculated among FDA watchers that the agency intended to include requirements for product testing, maintaining supplier verification programs and tracking consumer complaints in its FSMA proposal, published in the Federal Register Jan. 16, but the eight documents we found this week, while searching for other information, confirm it.

Food Safety News picked up the story.

Food Chemical News is reporting that documents released on regulations.gov on Feb. 28 reveal cuts made by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to the implementing regulatory package for the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).Those apparent cuts include striking out requirements for food companies to test for microbial contamination of environments and finished food products, as well as rules for companies to maintain supplier verification programs and track consumer complaints.

We encourage readers to review the documents here and comment on anything of interest in our comment section.

The documents say that the White House deleted:
  • Requirements for environmental monitoring for pathogens.
  • Requirements for finished product testing for pathogens.
  • An assumption that if environmental monitoring finds pathogens on food-contact, the pathogens are also in the food.
  • Requirements for a supplier approval and verification program.
  • A requirement that companies review consumer complaints about safety.
  • FDA authority to copy company records.
The White House also:
  • Added a year to the length of time companies and farms of all sizes have to comply with the law. 
Why?  Undoubtedly election-year politics.  The election is over.  
The FDA needs to do its job.  
Let’s get these items reinserted.
The safety of Americans is at stake here.  
Mar 5 2013

Let’s Move! Celebrates its 3rd Birthday–At Walmart’s

Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama did a national tour to celebrate the third anniversary of her Let’s Move! campaign to end childhood obesity within a generation.  

As explained in the White House press release, the tour was to focus on school lunches, physical activity, and getting businesses involved—“Healthy Families, Thriving Businesses.”

To that end, she visited a Walmart in Springfield, Missouri to congratulate the company on its pledge to open 300 stores in communities with limited access to affordable healthy foods, to reduce salt and sugars in its products, to make healthier food more affordable, and to put front-of-package logos on healthier foods.

As the press release explained (and as Walmart says in its own):

Walmart is one of many businesses across the country that is making healthy changes to support their customers, because they recognize that what’s good for their customer’s health is also good for their business. Following the tour, Mrs. Obama will deliver remarks about how supporting the health of American families is also good for business, and remind consumers that it’s up to them to continue demanding healthier options.

Did this mean that the new emphasis of Let’s Move! would be on personal responsibility?  Mrs. Obama explained further in the Wall Street Journal:

Take the example of Wal-Mart. In just the past two years, the company reports that it has cut the costs to its consumers of fruits and vegetables by $2.3 billion and reduced the amount of sugar in its products by 10%. Wal-Mart has also opened 86 new stores in underserved communities and launched a labeling program that helps customers spot healthy items on the shelf.

The best reported account of this visit is by Eddie Gehman Kohan at Obamafoodorama.  She points out that this particular Walmart is not located in an underserved community.  She also did the math and calculated that the savings in the cost of fruits and vegetables work out to 16 cents per week per customer.

At this point, I thought it was time for a field trip.

I was in Ithaca, NY over the weekend and checked out its Walmart to see what its Let’s Move!-inspired actions looked like on the ground.  I particularly wanted to see how its “Great for You” labeling program was working out.   This, you may recall, identifies healthy products with this logo:

Although the labeling program was announced a year ago, I had to search hard to find any examples.  Here are a couple in the produce section.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only a few bins of produce were marked with those labels.  There’s a tiny one in the picture below in front of some clementines from Honduras, but none of the other foods in that section had labels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could not find another such label anywhere else in the store.

How else was this Walmart promoting healthier eating?  Its big in-store promotion that day was right along the produce section: a large display of Oreo Mega Stuf cookies (the ones with twice the filling and twice the calories of regular Oreos).  A man was handing out free samples and dollar-off coupons.  When I picked up a package to read the label he said “Don’t do that. Treat yourself.”

The Ithaca Walmart is a quarter of a mile from Wegmans, so I did some comparison shopping.  I was surprised to find that the prices were remarkably close—about the same or only slightly higher (explaining why the Walmart price advantage is only a couple of cents a day).

But the people who shopped in Wegmans looked more affluent and healthier than Walmart shoppers.

Although the prices are similar—and the fresh foods at Wegmans are of higher quality—that Walmart is much less crowded, sparsely staffed by poorly paid employees,  and somehow makes it more comfortable for very poor people to shop there.

My conclusions:

  • Walmart makes produce available at market prices to people who don’t feel comfortable going to Wegmans.  
  • Walmart promises to open stores in low-income areas where Wegmans will not.

On this basis, does Walmart deserve this high level of White House praise and attention?

I don’t get it. 

Feb 8 2013

Rumor: the White House is holding out for weak calorie labeling

I hope the rumors I’m hearing are not true.

What sources are telling me is that the White House has decided not to allow the FDA to require calorie labels in movie theaters or anywhere else where selling food is not the primary business.

If these rumors have any validity, this situation is a sad commentary on how corporate pressures are undermining Michelle Obama’s Let Move campaign.

There is no practical reason that keeps movie theaters from posting calorie labels.

Plenty are already doing it.  New York City has had calorie labeling in movie theaters since 2008.  And guess what?  The world has not come to an end.

It’s approaching three years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, which authorizes national calorie labeling.

But the FDA still has not issued final rules, reportedly because the White House is holding them up.

The delay has left plenty of time for industry lobbying and pushback.

If the new rules exempt movie theaters and other such places, New York will not be able to continue requiring them to post the information.  That would be a significant setback.

So would exempting prepared foods in chain groceries and convenience stores, as the Center for Science in the Public Interest makes clear.

If you have concerns about this issue, send a message to Mrs. Obama at the White House.

Menu labeling that covers movie theaters as well as fast-food places will help people make healthier food choices.  It will also be a significant achievement of Let’s Move.

In the meantime, I’m keeping fingers crossed that the rumors are false.

Dec 20 2012

Beyoncé’s Pepsi deal: Implications for Let’s Move!

In response to my post a couple of days ago about Beyoncé’s Pepsi deal, a reader asks:

How do you think the White House should respond to this deal.? Beyoncé’s song is featured on White House website and a Let’s Move! t-shirt she designed is given to kids at official events.  Will kids make the connection?  Can all that dancing overcome the effects of eating too much?

Let me deal with these one at a time.  First, the problem this poses to Let’s Move!  People concerned about the role of sugary sodas in childhood obesity are appalled by Beyoncé’s deal with Pepsi, so much so that the Center for Science in the Public Interest has organized a campaign to call on her to reconsider.   Unless she does reconsider and withdraws from the deal, her continued involvement with Let’s Move! raises exactly the questions you ask.

Beyoncé has just put Let’s Move! in a painfully awkward conflict of interest.  On the one hand, Let’s Move! promotes healthy diet and activity patterns to reverse childhood obesity.  On the other, its celebrity spokesperson is now going to be pushing Pepsi.  Beyoncé’s image will now appear on Pepsi cans—I hope not wearing her Let’s Move! tee shirt.

What the Beyoncé deal points out is the hazard of partnerships and alliances between public health groups and food companies.

In April 2011, the Washington Post reported that “A White House spokesman said that the first lady and her team weren’t involved in the making of the clip but that Beyonce is “a great example of how people can get involved with ‘Let’s Move!’ and bring this message to more and more young people.”

But now this.  The White House has long maintained that food and beverage companies are not going away and that it is obliged to work with them.  Maybe, but on whose terms?  I see Beyoncé’s $50 million partnership with Pepsi as a slap in the face to Let’s Move!  It puts Let’s Move! in the position of promoting Pepsi or asking Beyoncé to withdraw from having anything to do with it.

As for how kids are going to figure this out:  All kids know is that Beyoncé is a gorgeous mega-star, one who is able to perform vigorous dance moves in astonishingly high heels, and that Pepsi helps her do so or at least doesn’t hurt.  Beyoncé is especially a role-model for African-American kids.  Pepsi targets its marketing to African-American kids.  This looks like a serious conflict of interest.

On the balance between diet and activity: How I wish that physical activity alone could reverse obesity.  Physical activity is terrific for health (I’m not sure about those stiletto heels) but it’s rarely enough to reverse obesity on its own.  To lose weight—and, these days, to maintain healthy weight—kids absolutely must eat less and eat better.

Beyoncé has done Michelle Obama no favor by getting involved with Pepsi.  This is a mess, and not one that can be gracefully fixed.

Dec 10 2012

The edible White House: and what a swell (political) party!

I was lucky enough to be invited to a holiday reception at the White House last week to see the decorations up close and the President and First Lady from a distance.

Never mind the Christmas trees in every room.  The gingerbread house!*

 

It comes with its very own garden, hoop houses, beehive, and kale:

The candy vegetables were not to be eaten.

But the cookies most definitely were.

Here’s to a happy, healthy, and well nourished holiday season!

*Obama Foodorama explains how White House pastry chef Bill Yosses and his colleagues created this masterpiece.

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