By Saraya Wintersmith
First Lady Michelle Obama has a new partner in the movement to get kids to eat healthier foods. While appearing at a Subway shop near the White House last month, Mrs. Obama announced Subway restaurant’s three-year alliance with the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) – the nonpartisan nonprofit that works with the private sector to promote the goals of Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign.
In a press release, PHA Board Chair Dr. James R. Gavin III characterized the restaurant’s commitment as a significant investment saying the deal will not only make fruits and veggies fun for kids, but also “offer busy moms and dads easy healthy choices for their families when they’re on the go.“
The Subway partnership includes a $41 million marketing commitment to promote healthy choices to children – the chain’s “largest kid-targeted marketing campaign to date,” according to a company press release. The strategy involves several changes in the restaurant’s standards for marketing to kids and families.
“I’m excited about these initiatives not just as a First Lady, but also as a mom,” Mrs. Obama said according to a White House press release. “Subway’s kids menu makes life easier for parents, because they know that no matter what their kids order, it’s going to be a healthy choice.”
During the January press conference, Mrs. Obama urged children in the restaurant to make their own healthy food decisions and keep themselves in good condition. “If you don’t do it because you want to make mom happy, do it because you want to make yourself happy and you want to put yourself in a position to be excellent,” she said. “What you eat at school absolutely affects how well your brain works and that’s the truth.”
The first lady also made it clear that the new initiative isn’t just for kids. “We have some flexibility so that we can feel comfortable eating with our kids when we take them out,” she said to the grown-ups. “There’s always some healthy option no matter what you’re doing in your life, and that’s why this initiative is good for adults,” said Mrs. Obama. DC Resident Keyonna Jones agrees parents should be an example to their children.
Jones is a mother of one. She says the initiative isn’t a bad one, but she knows that even the most aggressive kid-targeted campaign can’t convince children to eat healthy on its own. “Everything starts at home. Everything,” says Jones. She believes the shift in childhood obesity will only occur when healthy food becomes a common household priority. “Parents practicing at home – consistently – providing balanced meals for every meal and healthy snacks,” is what she believes will help parents keep their kids healthy and perhaps, persuade other companies to follow Subway’s lead in offering healthier alternatives.
Subway officials say over the next three years, the company will only offer kids menu items that are in line with guides based on federal standards for the nutritional school lunch program including “low-fat or non-fat milk or water as a default beverage.“ The brand’s new campaign also features a new slogan – “Playtime Powered by Veggies” – a new logo and a video collaboration with Disney’s the Muppets. Subway also reports plans to work in conjunction with the Partnership for a Healthier America to improve its food profile and “develop bread options that meet dietary guidance.” Additionally, the company says it will strive to improve its affordability by suggesting that franchisees price kids meals at less than or equal to the value of all items sold individually. Registered Dietician Kathy Glazer says this part of the commitment will be particularly helpful in giving lower income families access to affordable, healthier options for their children.
Glazer runs a private practice and also works part-time at a local clinic. She says lower-income families typically depend on quick and inexpensive food items to feed their children. “Depending on where people live and if they’re in food-desserts – getting healthy food and more choices to their kids is a great idea. Not everything is healthy at Subway,” she says “but [patrons] can make healthy choices,” Glazer recommends that Subway customers take advantage of initiative by asking for double vegetables and substituting things like apple slices in place of potato chips.
Subway’s commitment comes after Mrs. Obama held the first-ever White House summit on food marketing to kids last September. During the summit, Obama called on the private sector to use their wide-reaching marketing influence to promote healthier options to kids. In the company press release, Subway lauded itself as “the first and only quick service chain” to join PHA and Mrs. Obama to combat childhood obesity trend. The company says it will use all available avenues – general marketing, television, social media and in-store merchandising – to encourage kids to choose the healthy food options that are available.