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Michelle Obama Touts Walmart, Pushes Healthy Eating Message in Springfield

The First Lady addresses the crowd Thursday alongside Walmart's Leslie Dach/Credit: Scott Harvey

First Lady Michelle Obama called on more businesses to join in the fight against childhood obesity during the second and final day of her Let’s Move! tour, an initiative she began three years ago. As KSMU’s Scott Harvey reports, Mrs. Obama’s trip to a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Springfield served as a tribute to the company’s commitment to creating and selling healthy products.

The First Lady says American businesses such as Walmart are helping to disprove the notion that healthy food doesn’t sell. She thanked the company for taking the risk in offering these services to its customers.

“You didn’t just dip your toe into the water, instead you went all in. You transformed the way that you did business to bring your customers healthy products at prices they can afford,” Obama said.

The world’s largest retailer says that during the first two years of their healthier food initiative, they saved consumers $2.3 billion on fresh fruits and vegetables, launched a front-of-package icon to appear on 1,300 products, reduced salt and sugars in its private and national food brands, and opened 86 stores serving neighborhoods without access to fresh, affordable groceries.

Mrs. Obama cited a study by the Edelman public relations firm that shows 82 percent of consumers feel it’s important for companies to offer healthy products that fit family budgets. She added that companies who follow these food demands are providing a significantly larger return for their shareholders.

“I say this time and time again; it’s not about government telling companies what to sell or telling people what to buy. It’s about businesses like Walmart stepping up and to give people the information they need to make the healthy choices that are right for them.”

The First Lady toured the Neighborhood Market on South Glenstone Thursday afternoon before offering her remarks to a private audience. Also addressing the crowd of about 100 was Leslie Dach, Walmart’s vice president for corporate affairs and government relations, and Springfield mother and teacher Stephanie Kennedy. Kennedy told the audience that it’s not easy to make healthy choices, which makes Walmart’s commitment especially important to families like hers.

“If more companies start to make changes like Walmart, all of America’s families can start living a healthier life,” Kennedy said.

Obama says $190 billion is spent annually on treating obesity-relation health conditions, and that a significant portion of those costs are borne by America’s businesses. She called the need to provide an adequate source of healthy items at an affordable price not just a business opportunity, but a moral obligation.

“They’re responsibilities to the health of our families and the future of our next generation,” Obama said. “And in the coming months and years, we need more American businesses to step up and meet those responsibilities.”

But Mrs. Obama said that it’s not just about the choices of a company, it’s about the choices of a family, and urged citizens to “speak with our wallets because ultimately we are the ones who create the demand for these products.”

She says her Let’s Move! initiative is looking forward to working with additional companies who are willing to “make the big commitments.”

Earlier Thursday Mrs. Obama was in Chicago where she launched Let’s Move! Active Schools, geared toward more physical activity. Her goal within the first five years is to engage 50,000 schools who will create active environments where students get 60 minutes of physical activity before, during and after the school day. On Wednesday, the First Lady was in Mississippi where she congratulated the state for reducing its child obesity rate by 13 percent.