The former first lady has a new mission: to make children healthier.
On Wednesday, Michelle Obama announced the launch of a new health-focused food-and-drink brand, PLEZi Nutrition, that’s targeted at fighting child obesity.
“Our goal—to make products with real nutrition, to be an ally that parents can trust,” Obama said at the Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival on Wednesday, where she announced PLEZi’s launch. “We want to be a huge part of helping create a healthier generation for all children.”
The first of the company’s products is a fruity drink with no added sugar and only 35 calories (compared to roughly 150 calories in some sugary drinks) that comes in multiple flavors. The drink is already available at a limited number of Target and Sprouts stores across the US In the coming years, the company plans to introduce snacks and other products.
Obama is PLEZi Nutrition’s cofounder and strategic partner, and the company will be led by a team of public health, nutrition, and parenting specialists.
As First Lady, Obama spearheaded the Let’s Move initiative to promote exercising and healthy eating from a young age. Launched in 2010, the campaign spurred action at the national level through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that provided increased funding to public schools to offer healthier meal options. Obama also worked with major food manufacturers to reduce the calorie count in their products.
But Obama said he faced obstacles in bringing real change to children’s nutrition, even while at 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—you’ve got to get inside,” Obama said. “You’ve got to find ways to change the food and beverage industry itself.”
She called out food brands that preyed on children’s cravings for sugar and other unhealthy ingredients instead of catering to their nutritional needs.
“Businesses are designed to give people what they want, not what they need,” Obama said.
In the US, about 20% of children aged 19 and under are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Daily added-sugar consumption, linked to obesity and type 2 diabetes and heart disease, within that same age group is significantly higher than the recommended level, negatively impacting the health outcomes of children from a young age.
The motto of PLEZi Nutrition, Obama said, is to offer products that are full of nutrients like fiber and potassium. But the key is to have children keep coming back for more.
“We’ve learned that innovation without great taste is meaningless because we really want kids to stop choosing soda and sugary drinks,” Obama said, adding that the PLEZi drinks were made with the idea of changing how children consume drinks. “A small innovation in an industry that can significantly improve the health outcomes for our kids.”
“We want to contribute to the larger calling—something bigger than just our bottom line,” Obama said.
To that end, PLEZi Nutrition will be run as a public benefit company, or a corporation created with the motive of doing social good while turning a profit.
“I want other companies to know that PLEZi is coming and I want to challenge all companies to do better than us. Out-innovate us,” Obama said. “That’s the scale of change I’m hoping to spur.”