Michelle Obama Seeks Corporate Support for Fight against Childhood Obesity

First Lady Michelle Obama has published an article in The Wall Street Journal that has rallied businesses to the fight against childhood obesity.

"Every day, great American companies are achieving greater and greater success by creating and selling healthy products," she wrote. "In doing so, they are showing that what's good for kids and good for family budgets can also be good for business."

The First Lady named several examples of large U.S. companies that are doubling down on healthy food. Wal-Mart has cut costs on fruits and vegetables and reduced the amount of sugar in its products, all which seeing increased fresh produce sales in improving its brand value. Likewise, Disney is eliminating junk food ads from its children's programming and Walgreens is adding fresh fruits and vegetables to its stores in underserved communities.

Obama pointed out that "American businesses are stepping up to invest in building a healthier future for our kids" because consumers are increasingly demanding healthy foods. She cites a 2011 study by the Hudson Institute which found that healthier foods have generated more than 70 percent of the growth in sales for consumer packaged goods.

The First Lady has lent the prestige of her office to fighting childhood obesity, the incidence of which has increased alarmingly in recent years. As of 2010, more than one third of Americans between the ages of 6 and 19 are clinically overweight or obese. In the U.S., $190 billion are spent each year treating obesity-related health conditions like diabetes and heart disease.

In 2010, Obama launched "Let's Move!", a nation campaign to solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation. Let's Move! provides support for parents, advocates for healthier food in schools, helps children be more physically activity, and seeks to increase the availability of healthy food nationwide, especially in so-called "food deserts" where natural food is scarce.

Last week, the General Mills Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the giant food corporation, announced it will be lending its support Obama's work to fight obesity. The Foundation has committed $10 million to help implement the new President Youth Fitness Program, a school-based fitness assessment program.

The company made its announcement at an event in Chicago where the First Lady launched "Let's Move! Active Schools," a program that emphasizes quality physical education. "General Mills is thrilled to be here today to support the First Lady's efforts to improve youth fitness," said Kim Nelson, senior vice president of external relations at General Mills and president of the General Mills Foundation.

"We believe the Presidential Youth Fitness Program will provide a groundbreaking, sustainable approach to improving the health and well-being of our nation's youth," she added. "This new partnership allows General Mills to broaden our commitment and positively impact even more young people."

The new Presidential Youth Fitness Program represents a significant shift in how schools approach physical fitness. Instead of recognizing athletic performance as the old Youth Fitness Test did, the new program assesses students' health-related fitness and helps them progress over time.

"The Presidential Youth Fitness Program isn't about who is the fastest or the strongest. It is about healthy kids and lifelong physical activity," said Dr. Jayne Greenberg of the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition council member.

"The General Mills Foundation has a strong track record in supporting youth nutrition and fitness," she continued, "and we are grateful for their commitment and the marketing expertise they will provide to help us make this new program a success."