Last week, First Lady Michelle Obama was joined at the White House by Sesame Street characters Elmo and Rosita to announce a potentially game-changing collaboration in the fight against childhood obesity. Sesame Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) formed a two-year agreement with the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) to help promote fresh fruit and vegetable consumption to kids, according to Let’s Move!, Mrs. Obama’s initiative to tackle the childhood obesity epidemic.
The agreement allows PMA’s community of growers, suppliers and retailers to utilize the popularity and influence of the Sesame Street brand without a licensing fee, using characters such as Big Bird, Elmo, Rosita and Abby Cadabby to help cultivate kids’ interest in fresh fruits and vegetables. Sesame Street characters may appear on produce in stores as early as mid-2014.
The announcement comes on the heels of the first-ever White House Convening on Food Marketing to Children, during which Mrs. Obama called on stakeholders to begin marketing healthy products and decrease the marketing of unhealthy products to kids.
The partnership responds to the First Lady’s call to action and represents a commitment to leverage the power of marketing to promote healthier foods to kids. By allowing produce companies to use its beloved characters to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables, Sesame Workshop is taking an unprecedented step toward this goal.
In a recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics, the number of children who chose apples over cookies doubled when an Elmo sticker was placed on the apple. That finding is a fascinating highlight of an experiment designed by Cornell University researchers who offered an apple, a cookie, or both, to a few hundred 8-to-11-year-old boys and girls. Most children picked the cookie at first, but twice as many chose the apple in a second round with Elmo stickers placed visibly on the fruit.
“As you all know the deck is stacked against healthy foods like fruits and vegetables,” Mrs. Obama said. “The average child watches thousands of food advertisements each year, and 86% of these ads are for products loaded with sugar, fat or salt. By contrast, our kids see an average of just one ad, just one ad a week, for healthy products like water and fruits and vegetables.”
Following the announcement, the First Lady joined Elmo, Rosita and Let’s Move! Executive director Sam Kass for the White House Kitchen Garden Fall Harvest. Students from DC, Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland spent the afternoon harvesting and preparing vegetables from the garden located on the South Lawn of the White House.
The schools that participated in the Harvest are all making healthy changes to their schools, including ensuring kids have healthy snack options. Starting next school year, all schools will be required to follow the “Smart Snacks in School” nutrition standards, which will make vending machines and a la carte lines healthier.
Also in the spirit of promoting healthier eating habits to children, McDonald's last month announced the launch of a new Happy Meal Books promotion — from Nov. 1–14, Happy Meals will be accompanied by one of a series of four original books designed to encourage children to eat right and be more active. While it's a step in the right direction, skeptics say the fast-food giant still has a long way to go, including advocacy groups Corporate Accountability International (CAI) and Food Mythbusters, which have long criticized McDonald’s for aiming its advertising at children at all.
Regardless, McDonald’s appears to be on a mission to improve its customers’ health by raising awareness of and offering more nutritious menu options at the chain. At the Clinton Global Initiative in September, McDonald's announced a partnership with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (AHG), with the goal of increasing customers' access to fruit and vegetables and encouraging families and children to make informed nutritional choices. With AHG’s help, McDonald's developed a plan to offer salad, fruit or vegetable as a substitute for fries in value meals; and promote water, milk or juice as the beverage option in Happy Meals in 20 of the restaurant chain's largest markets around the world.