Michelle Obama has announced she is working with a new company that will make and sell healthier food and drinks for children, products that she says will be less detrimental to long-term health because of the lower sugar and higher nutrient content.
The former first lady's work with PLEZi Nutrition, where she is a “co-founder and strategic partner,” is an extension of her efforts to improve child nutrition when she was in the White House.
“I’ve learned that on this issue, if you want to change the game, you can’t just work from the outside,” she said during a keynote address in New York during a conference on the future sponsored by The Wall Street Journal. “You’ve got to get inside. You've got to find ways to change the food and beverage industry itself.”
“So today, I’m proud to announce the national launch of a company designed not just to provide better products, but to jumpstart what I hope will be a race to the top that will transform the entire food industry,” she added.
Ms Obama is a co-founder and strategic partner of PLEZi Nutrition, which will see her work behind-the-scenes on its educational and philanthropic efforts, according to aides, who stressed that she will not be a spokesperson or public face of the company. It was unclear whether she put any money down to help launch the company or whether she will be paid a salary.
As first lady, Ms Obama promoted a White House initiative called “Let's Move” to improve the health of US children by encouraging them to engage in physical activity and eat healthier food. She also worked to improve federal nutrition standards for school lunches and extracted commitments from food companies and restaurant chains to cut calories, salt, sugar and trans fats in their meals.
But she said Wednesday that children are still not getting the recommended levels of nutrients, and are eating and drinking too much added sugar, an average of 53 pounds per year. Sugary drinks are youngsters' main source of added sugar, she said, adding that nearly two-thirds of them have such a drink every day.
PLEZi Nutrition, based in the District of Columbia, is a public benefit corporation, meaning that the for-profit company was created specifically for the public's benefit and will balance its profit needs with its mission to help improve child nutrition.
The company’s first product is a drink for children ages six to 12, which has 75 per cent less sugar than average fruit juices, according to the former first lady. The drink, which comes in four flavours: Tropical Punch, Orange Smash, Sour Apple and Blueberry Blast, is currently available for purchase at Target and Sprouts Farmers Market stores and online at Walmart.
However, the website also notes that the healthiest beverage option for children is water.
“First and foremost, we know kids should first drink water, and PLEZi isn’t intended to replace water!” the website reads. “PLEZi has 75 per cent less sugar than average leading 100 per cent fruit juices, no added sugar, plus fibre and nutrients to support kids’ growing bodies. So our recommendation is always water first, and replace the sugary drinks your child would drink normally with PLEZi.”
Ms Obama also announced that the company is donating $1m to an initiative by FoodCorps, a nonprofit organisation that is working to help all 50 million students in the US receive education about nutrition and free school meals by 2030. PLEZi Nutrition will also contribute 10 per cent of its profits to the broader movement to improve child nutrition.
Additional reporting by AP.