While her husband headed off to Boston to praise health reform in Mitt Romney's backyard, Michelle Obama stayed home Wednesday to join forces with a one-time Romney adversary: the Sesame Street gang.
The first lady hosted the beloved Elmo and Rosita, two of Sesame Street favorites, to announce a big new partnership aimed at getting kids to choose healthier snacks. The team from Sesame Street will join up with the Produce Marketing Association and the Partnership for a Healthier America to add the friendliest muppet faces to the produce aisle.
"This is a huge deal." Michelle Obama said.
"As you all know the deck is stacked against healthy foods like fruits and vegetables," she said. "The average child watched thousands of food advertisements each year, and 86% of these ads are for products loaded with sugar, fat, or salt. By contrast, our kids see an average of just one ad, just one ad a week, for healthy products like water and fruits and vegetables."
The hope is that with the help the gang from Sesame Street, children will reach more often for a piece of fruit or a vegetable, instead of sweets or chips. It might sound like wishful thinking, but if Cookie Monster can learn that cookies are a sometimes food, the first lady thinks it's possible kids can change their behavior too.
And there's at least some evidence that the power of Elmo is strong enough to make the healthier option more appealing. The first lady pointed to one study that found the number of kids who chose an apple over a cookie nearly doubled when that apple had an Elmo sticker on it.
The groups hope that they can help replicate the results of that smaller study on a broader scale, to help bring down childhood obesity rates.
Sesame Street characters have been some of the first lady's biggest allies in her quest to make the next generation of Americans a little healthier. In fact, they kicked off their own "Healthy Habits Initiative" nearly a decade ago. Elmo's been encouraging kids to "eat your colors" for years, advice which subtly helps encourage kids to go for the more colorful fruits and vegetable. The new partnership will help Elmo remind those kids as they walk the produce aisles with their parents.
The Sesame Street-White House relationship goes back to her first year in the White House, when Elmo and his neighbors joined her to help plant the White House Garden that year too. Elmo and Rosita returned to the garden Wednesday, with schoolkids from the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, to help with the fall harvest.