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First Lady Proposes Canning Junk Food Marketing in Schools, Unveils Updated Nutrition Labels

It’s been a busy week for Michelle Obama, as the First Lady unveiled proposals that would change the way we learn about food — both bold moves that would involve sweeping changes that would prove “a big deal” if implemented.

It’s been a busy week for Michelle Obama, as the First Lady unveiled proposals that would change the way we learn about food — both bold moves that would involve sweeping changes that would prove “a big deal” if implemented.

To celebrate the fourth anniversary of her Let's Move! initiative this week, Michelle Obama made further strides in her efforts to eliminate the marketing of junk food to children. Following recent victories in which Let’s Move! partnered with “Sesame Street” to use the likenesses of its characters to promote fruits and vegetables, and a partnership with Subway to promote healthier food to kids, Mrs. Obama proposed on Wednesday new “school wellness guidelines” that include a ban on ads for sodas and unhealthy snacks in public schools.

"Our classrooms should be healthy places where kids are not bombarded with ads for junk food," Obama said during the White House event.

Joining Mrs. Obama for the announcement, US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack elaborated by saying the new rules eliminate marketing for products that can’t be sold in schools. "If you can't sell it, you ought not to be able to market it," he said. Vilsack noted that food and beverage companies spend $149 million a year marketing their wares to kids in public schools, with candy and snack food manufacturers and fast-food chains being the biggest spenders, some going so far as to offer coupons for items such as pizza for reading books. As of now, California and Connecticut are the only two states that have banned the sale of soda and junk food from public schools.

Then on Thursday, Mrs. Obama unveiled the first updates in 20 years to food nutrition labels. The proposed updates include bolder calorie listings, eliminating and adding certain nutrients with daily value percentages, dropping the requirement to list “calories from fat,” making serving sizes larger (considered more reflective of how Americans actually eat), and separately listing added sugars on top of naturally occurring sugars. She also presented an alternate label, which if implemented would indicate specific nutrients that people should avoid overconsuming and others that people should get minimum daily amounts of, along with the corresponding percentages that food would contribute.

During the announcement, the First Lady touted the changes as “a big deal, and it's going to make a big difference for families all across this country.”

Not surprisingly, reactions to the proposed changes already run the gamut. “The Grocery Manufacturers Association and other industry groups have said they are committed to working with the administration to help Americans make healthier diet choices,” Ariana Eunjung Cha writes in the Washington Post. “However, as the new labels were being developed, they expressed strong objections to some of the FDA’s ideas, especially the addition of a line for ‘added sugars.’”

On the other hand, Cha says, “health advocates who have been asking for the changes for over a decade said they were generally pleased with the FDA proposal, but said there was more work to be done.”

Once the FDA reviews the proposed updates and makes a final ruling, food companies would have two years to implement the new labels.

"Everyone in the industry is going to be affected," said Regina Hildwine, senior director of science policy and labeling and standards at the Grocery Manufacturers Association told Politico. "Everyone in the industry is going to have to change their labels. It’s a very big deal. It’s very expensive."

In August, members of the Grocery Marketing Association and the Food Marketing Institute, with the help of BBDO, Edelman and FoodMinds, launched a $50 million revamp of the 2011 Facts Up Front campaign to highlight nutrition information by moving it to the front of food packages. Major food companies including General Mills, Kraft Foods Group, Mondelez International, Kellogg and Hershey signed on to participate in the program, which GMA estimates was projected to include 70 to 80 percent of products from participating companies by the end of 2013.


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