Make healthy food cool to kids, Michelle Obama asks TV executives

WASHINGTON, Sept 18 Wed Sep 18, 2013 7:09pm EDT

WASHINGTON, Sept 18 (Reuters) - First Lady Michelle Obama asked television and food company executives at a White House gathering on Wednesday to sell youngsters on healthy food with the pitch: "If anyone can make our kids eat their vegetables, it's all of you."

Mrs. Obama cited the power of advertising, now a torrent touting salty, fatty and sugary goodies, in calling for a switch to marketing, "foods that have real nutritional value, foods that are fortified with real fruit and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy."

The speech headlined "a convening about food marketing to children" was in the State Dining Room of the White House and was part of Mrs. Obama's campaign against childhood obesity. The Let's Move initiative, launched in 2010, encouraging physical exercise and more nutritious school meals is the best-known element.

Last week, Mrs. Obama gave a push to a new "Drink Up" drive for Americans to consume water rather than sugary beverages.

Seven dozen companies and advocacy groups were invited to the White House gathering. The list included Burger King and Taco Bell, General Mills, Kraft, Walmart and Mars among food companies. Time Warner, Disney, Univision and Viacom were among the media companies. Community groups, consumer groups, academics and health advocates also attended.

The goal was to engender collaboration among the companies and groups to make it easier for families to eat healthier meals and find out how marketing could help.

Mrs. Obama suggested that media companies could keep ads for unhealthy foods out of children's programs and devote their licensed characters - she used the example of characters from Sesame Street - to promote healthy foods.

Sam Kass, executive director of Let's Move, said, "we're committed to continuing the dialogue and making progress," following the session on Wednesday.

In 2011, the Federal Trade Commission failed to get food and beverage makers to agree to voluntary guidelines on marketing to children. Since then, there have been various initiatives by individual companies or business coalitions to reduce calories in their products or set a code of conduct on marketing.