First lady Michelle Obama is taking the right approach to encouraging kids and parents to choose healthier food, but she faces an uphill battle, according to one food industry expert.
Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter Michael Moss, who is also the author of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, told The Huffington Post that Obama’s approach of “hitting the economics of food is really important and smart.”
In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, Obama argued that grocers like Walgreens and Walmart are “proving conventional wisdom wrong” by offering healthier products and still managing to make a profit off of them. She also highlighted Walmart’s efforts to lower the cost of their healthier foods, a step which Moss says is necessary if we want Americans to make healthier choices.
“The playing field is anything but level when you walk into the grocery store,” Moss said. “So much government subsidy goes into processed foods. Even when you’re well-meaning as a parent or a shopper for yourself, you can’t help but be pulled toward the highly processed food.”
But even if grocers are taking pains to make their healthier options more accessible to consumers, there’s still little incentive for the food industry to make their products healthier, Moss said. So shoppers are still up against food industry marketing and formula tinkering -- which Moss highlighted in a piece in The New York Times Magazine last weekend -- that encourages them to crave junk food.
“Every time the good giants try to cut back on salt, sugar, fat calories, inevitably Wall Street raises its hand and is looking at the sales figures and the revenue and saying, ‘Thou shalt not result in any loss of profit,’” he said. “There’s huge continuing pressure on the food companies.”
Still, if food companies can mobilize their army of scientists and marketing experts to create healthier products that still taste good, they could be in for a huge windfall, Moss said. However, he added, increasing the health factor in our everyday food items will likely take an industry-wide push -- if one company puts resources on its own into addressing the issue and then fails, it opens up space for the competition.
“If the companies can figure out a way to reduce ... salt, sugar, fat to meaningful amounts and still keep them tasty, there’s no question they’re going to make more money because people still really care,” he said.