HEALTH

Michelle Obama appears at Hyattsville Olive Garden to tout healthy eating

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Wootan says Mrs. Obama and her staff have done more than just public appearances, working behind the scenes with industry and Congress to affect change. "She does more than use the bully pulpit," says Wootan.

(Photo: Associated Press)

The landscape has certainly changed for the food industry since President Barack Obama took office and the first lady launched her campaign. In that time, Congress has passed laws to improve school lunches, improve food safety and require calorie labeling in restaurants, all with industry support. The administration has proposed new food marketing rules for children and the food industry has come at least part of the way with their own proposal to limit marketing to kids. Major companies have launched a joint effort to cut calories and put more nutrition information on food labels.

The first lady's effort has had "a dramatic impact on manufacturers, restaurants and retailers," says Scott Faber, a lobbyist for the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents all of the major food companies. "Until the first lady launched her initiative there was no one American who was inspiring this generation of kids and parents to do more to have a healthy lifestyle."

Mrs. Obama's participation with Darden Restaurants was her latest appearance with retailers and other private-sector players in support of her anti-obesity campaign. In January, she stood with Wal-Mart, the nation's largest grocer, as it pledged to reformulate thousands of products it sells to make them healthier and to push suppliers to do the same.

This summer, the first lady applauded as Wal-Mart, Walgreens drug stores and several regional grocers committed to help eliminate "food deserts" by opening or expanding in rural and urban areas without easy access to healthy foods, including fresh fruits and vegetables.

One in three U.S. children is overweight or obese, putting them at greater risk of developing diabetes, heart disease or other health conditions. Mrs. Obama has said her goal is to help today's youngsters become adults at a healthy weight by eating better and getting more exercise.

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