by Marion Nestle
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!

  • Wil Ward

    Wow, this is great! Thanks for posting this 🙂 I work closely with the Latino population in Illinois and many Latinos here are vulnerable to unhealthy, highly processed foods. The first step to change is recognizing that it is a problem! I’m glad this has reached the White House. Thank you!

  • Michael Bulger

    Meanwhile, a recent review by researchers investigated industry claims that corporations are voluntarily scaling back junk food ads directed at kids. The researchers found that kids are being exposed to levels of junk food ads that are similar or the same as levels before the industry promised self-regulation.


    It’s laudable that Michelle Obama is encouraging parents to make good choices. But those parents and their kids are up against the all the marketing and financial muscle of huge corporations like Pepsi Co., Coca-Cola, and other ABA or GMA members. And those profit-driven businesses have shown time and again that they are not going to put public health before profits. Without effective regulations, the Pepsi Co.’s of the world are going to go after kids. It’s part of their in their business model to push the most profitable (e.g., cheapest and least healthy) “food” products on the most vulnerable populations.

    This is a perfect example of an instance where governmental regulations can serve to restrain a market that does a tragic disservice to our country and nations around the globe.

  • Michael Bulger

    *It’s part of their business model to push the most profitable (e.g., cheapest and least healthy) “food” products on the most vulnerable populations.

    pls excuse the typo! 🙂

  • Anthro

    At least she’s starting a conversation. The Hispanic community is in a position to vote with its dollars, but they need to understand that marketers will use them and take advantage of their desire to assimilate and have an “American experience”, which includes the desire to give their kids everything they see American kids having. So, I think the FLOTUS’ words are important to this group.

  • Kerry Copeland

    In reading the excerpt from Michele Obama’s speech, it sounds a lot like what Yoni Freedhoff would classify as more “Parental No files”, putting the responsibility back on parents to control what their kids eat. Although I agree fully that as parents we have a lot of responsibility in controlling and influencing what our kids consume, this seems to be a step backwards. Although Mrs Obama initially seems to “target” industry, the bottom line is that she is calling on parents to influence industry by using their “marketing” power rather than have government influence what is produced and how it is marketed. I know the latter is a bit of a pipe dream, but I really question whether we’ll ever see enough change in parents’ shopping patterns to influence what is marketed.

  • Jennifer Stimson

    Totally agree with Copeland and Bulger. We have been practicing the “personal responsibilty” mantra for healthy eating for way too long and look at where it is getting us. These companies have a duty to their shareholders to sell more of their products. They are not going to do anything voluntarily that will lose money. Watch “The Corporation”.

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  • SAO

    I was shocked recently to discover that most Goya beans have added sugar. The majority of cans of beans I picked up had sugar as an ingredient but no Tex-Mex or SA recipe I’ve seen calls for cooking beans with sugar.

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  • Follow the Money

    sponsor list of the La Raza conference where FLOTUS spoke
    (coke, pepsi, general mills, kraft, sodexo, walmart, goya, MillerCoors etc.)

    the speech on video –

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