12:20pm

Thu January 20, 2011
Shots - Health News Blog

Wal-Mart Food Push Echoes Earlier Move On Generic Drugs

Wal-Mart is making a big splash with a plan to sell less unhealthy food.

The bargain retailer, in case you didn't know, is the biggest grocer in the country. And on Thursday morning in Washington, Wal-Mart, with an assist from first lady Michelle Obama, said it will press suppliers to improve packaged foods by reducing sodium by 25 percent, cutting added sugar by 10 percent and virtually eliminating trans fats.

The changes are supposed to happen by 2015. Food watchdog Michael Jacobson, head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, even got quoted praising Wal-Mart's moves in the company's release release.

Wal-Mart also said it would make healthier foods, such as fresh fruits and veggies, more affordable. And by opening more stores in cities, the company expects to make better food more widely available.

Now this isn't the first time the retailer has jumped on a consumer health issue in a big way. In late 2006, Wal-Mart started making a slew of generic prescription drugs available for $4 a month. And later, 90-day mail order prescriptions were added. Their price: $10.

There was some skepticism at the time. But Wal-Mart's move to offer generic drugs at such cheap prices prompted other retailers, including Target, to bring down their prices, too.

Wal-Mart figures that as of last fall, the cut-price generics it sells have saved consumers more than $3.4 billion. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.