If you’ve got kids, and those kids eat anything you can purchase in a grocery store, you are well-versed in the amount of food marketing that gets aimed at children. Whether it’s natural-crunchy-organic stuff emblazoned with pretty pastoral scenes or the screaming neon corn-based junk at your more traditional stores, companies spend big bucks marketing to children. Food companies spent $1.6 billion on marketing to kids in 2006, while fast food restaurants sold more than 1.2 billion kids’ meals with toys. People form their brand loyalties and food preferences very early in childhood, so getting them as customers as children is key.
This Alternet story does a great job of breaking down many of the issues around food marketing to kids. While the government has historically allowed food companies to police their own marketing efforts, last year Congress ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission to report on recommended guidelines for advertising food to kids. The report is due out in July.
Part of the problem is figuring out how to regulate fast food chains and food companies who offers a broad range of products, some healthy and some not. Another issue is how to deal with food companies that might simply reformulate a food to have less sugar by adding Splenda, for example.
The story also laid out ways families fight against the marketing tide, ranging from parsing every commercial they see to getting rid of their TV altogether.
Personally, I think there is no substitute for reading labels and explaining to kids that there are healthy foods that give them energy and help them grow, and not such good food that makes them feel icky. We do allow them to have fast food sometimes, but it’s a treat, not a regular thing. That said, I would love it if regulations make it easier for parents to reinforce healthy messages, not to mention educating parents themselves that chicken nuggets and sugary cereals are not God-given rights of childhood.
Our sister blog The Family Kitchen posted a link to some new regulations that the makers of Pepsi and Doritos have announced.