Commentary

First Lady Tours Walmart's 86th 'Food Desert' Store

By Craig Bannister | February 28, 2013 | 3:05pm EST

First Lady Michelle Obama toured a Springfield, MO, Walmart Thursday, which Walmart spokeswoman Andrea Thompson says is the company's 86th outlet located in what the USDA deems a "food desert."

The Walmart tour was a stop in the First Lady's cross-country travel celebrating the third anniversary of her "Let's Move!" campaign promoting exercise and healthful food.

As defined by the USDA, a food desert exists where low-income people must travel more than one mile in urban communities and 10 miles in rural communities to access retailers that have fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy food offerings.

The USDA even has an interactive food desert locator map.  In 2011, Walmart committed to open between 275-300 stores serving food deserts by the end of 2015. Still, The USDA estimates there are more than 6,500 food deserts, nationwide.

During her tour of the Springfield store, the First Lady witness changes Walmart has made to:

  • Reduce sodium and sugar and added sugar in products,
  • Make healthier food more affordable,
  • Add a front-of-label seal on products to help customers identify healthier foods

For example, Thompson said, Walmart has "reformulated" its salsa to reduce its sodium content.

The First Lady commended Walmart for being proof that healthy food sold at a low price can still be good for business:

"For years, the conventional wisdom said that healthy products simply didn't sell - that the demand wasn't there, that higher profits were found elsewhere, so it just wasn't worth the investment. Thanks to Walmart and so many other great American businesses, we are proving the conventional wisdom wrong.

"Every day, with their success, these companies are showing us that what's good for kids and good for family budgets can also be good for business."

The First Lady Michelle was joined by local Springfield mom and teacher Stephanie Kennedy who has lost 70 pounds over the past two years by eating healthier. Kennedy is now trying to teach her students and grandchildren about the importance of eating healthy.

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