I applaud Michelle Obama for targeting childhood obesity as a priority and advocating for programs that improve the well-being of our youth. But I challenge her approach as it does not go far enough.

While efforts to increase the number of “healthy schools,” encourage more exercise, and improve the availability of more nutritious food in low-income neighborhoods are noble, they do not attack the real enemy in the battle of the bulge: the number of excess calories available to eat. This is the missing link.

Rather than looking at the food industry as a pariah, it’s time to reach out to them.

Putting into effect tax incentives that entice food companies to sell fewer calories will yield more tangible results than pushing for more consumer behavioral change. These incentives can be structured to reward companies that cut their calories. Conversely, if marketers continue to spew excess calories on the public, they would risk losing favorable tax treatments.

An Obama program fueled by an energized food industry would be a strong one-two punch to knockout obesity. Our children’s health depends on it.

Today it was revealed that a number of food companies have been quietly lowering the amount of salt in their products over the past few years. Icon brands such as V8 vegetable juice, Chef Boyardee canned pasta and Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn have each shed more than 30% of their sodium content.  They got caught doing the right thing.

This Stealth Health approach offers a more enlightened way to ensure that consumers really do stick with changes intended to improve the nutrition of packaged foods and beverages. This is in contrast to the “stick” approach of taxing consumers or banning favorite ingredients to force changes in eating habits which rarely are adhered.

Why do I like Stealth Health? For one, food corporations have been deploying “stealth” tactics for many years to reduce costs.  Little by little, tweak by tweak, the iconic brands that we enjoy have all been tinkered with over the decades – all without us knowing so that we don’t abandon ship.

Stealth Health also avoids overtly depriving the public of the foods and beverages they enjoy. This is why diets fail. Instead of expecting consumers to abandon their favorite foods, improving the nutrition and/or reducing calories below the radar does not upset this delicate balance.

And, it sidesteps consumer suspicions that if a food is “healthy” it can’t taste good (witness cereals that have tasted like cardboard or the first soy hot dogs). Virtually every piece of research I have encountered confirms that, for foods that are typically more indulgent, the consumer believes that making these foods more healthy results in poorer taste.

For a half century, the food industry has quietly produced 29% more calories per person to eat every day.  It’s time to reverse that trend in the same way – quietly. Obesity will not be solved overnight, but by taking cues from the Salt Wars, food companies now have the blueprint on how to secretly perform nutritional surgery on their brands and go about taking the calories out without compromising their profits.