First Lady Lauds Walmart's Push For Healthful Food

First lady Michelle Obama and Bill Simon, head of Walmart's U.S. operations i i

hide captionFirst lady Michelle Obama joined Bill Simon, head of Walmart's U.S. operations, Thursday in Washington, D.C., to announce the company's plan to provide healthier and more affordable food choices to customers.

Cliff Owen/AP
First lady Michelle Obama and Bill Simon, head of Walmart's U.S. operations

First lady Michelle Obama joined Bill Simon, head of Walmart's U.S. operations, Thursday in Washington, D.C., to announce the company's plan to provide healthier and more affordable food choices to customers.

Cliff Owen/AP

First Lady Michelle Obama joined Walmart on Thursday as the retail giant announced a plan to make thousands of its food products more nutritious — a move supported by her campaign to reduce childhood obesity.

Walmart is promising to work with suppliers to reduce the salt and sugar in packaged foods, cut the costs of healthful fruits and vegetables, and develop a logo that consumers can use to choose healthier items. As part of its five-year plan, the company will also build stores in areas not already served by groceries.

As the nation's biggest grocery retailer, Walmart has the clout to potentially transform the whole food marketplace, said Obama, whose "Let's Move" campaign is targeted at combating obesity in children.

"When 140 million people a week are shopping at Walmart, then day by day and meal by meal all these small changes can start to make a big difference for our children's health," said the first lady, who was joined by Walmart executives as they announced the plan at a community center in Washington, D.C.

Obama said that when she first decided to take on the issue of childhood obesity, she was skeptical as to whether it could work or whether anyone was interested in making the needed changes.

"But today, when I see a company like Walmart launch an initiative like this, I feel more hopeful than ever before that the answer to these questions is yes," she said.

Bill Simon, chief executive of Walmart's American operations, said no family should be priced out of healthful food. The company's sheer size gives it considerable power over manufacturers of the products it sells, so it will have considerable leverage when it comes to the nutritional quality of the foods it sells.

"Walmart is uniquely positioned to make a difference by making food healthier and more affordable to everyone," Simon said. "We are committed to working with suppliers, government and nongovernmental organizations to provide solutions that help Americans eat healthier and live a better life."

Walmart executives cited Obama as a catalyst for the initiative and said "Let's Move" is consistent with its commitment to be a leader on social issues that matter to its customers.

"Few individuals have done more to raise awareness of the importance of healthier habits — especially among children — than she has," said Leslie Dach, executive vice president of corporate affairs.

Obama called Walmart's plan "a huge victory" for parents and children.

"When healthier options are finally affordable, that can affect every single meal a child eats, whether it's adding fruit at breakfast or whole-wheat bread at lunch or more veggies on the plate at dinner," she said.

NPR's Scott Horsley contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press.

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