November 12, 2012 by kalnajja
Food Marketing to children is currently under attack. As more links between the childhood obesity epidemic and food marketing to youth are made, it is not hard to see why. The average US child watches 13 food commercials a day and teens see more than 16 commercials a day (1). Most of these commercials (if not all) are advertising highly processed foods or drinks high in sodium, sugar or fat. So when lawmakers are brainstorming strategies to improve the health of our children, whom do they restrict? ….Food Marketers.
Both the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) created by the Better Business Bureau in 2006 and the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children (IWG) called together as a directive from Congress in 2009 with representatives from the FTC, CDC, FDA and USDA, have created nutrition-related marketing guides for companies to follow. With a shared goal to improve children’s diets, the two sets of guidelines have been received very differently.
The business community has portrayed the guidelines developed by IWG as “job killing government outreach”. (harsh, I know) Food makers say the voluntary guidelines are too severe and would prevent them from marketing even relatively healthy foods to children. They are now demanding a cost-benefit analysis before allowing the proposal to be finalized forcing deeper deliberation of the initiative. The administration has tried to stress that the guidelines are strictly voluntary and there are no mandatory costs, but the food and beverage industry continues to respond with strong pushbacks. On the other hand, the administration sees CFBAI’s guidelines as a weak compromise. The critics say these liberal regulations lack uniformity and are simply not strict enough to change the health of our youth (2).
It is hard to know whether or not these guidelines if put into effect will decrease childhood obesity, but if they are ever enforced they will undoubtedly change the culture of food marketing. While the IWG used the best science, allowed for public participation, and tried to use the least burdensome methods for achieving the goals, the biggest flaw in my opinion is that they did not have the food and beverage industry at the table with them.
The Institute of Medicine’s report Food Marketing to children and youth: threat or opportunity, I think, effectively summarizes the two directions we can take to improve child nutrition; we can either demonize all food marketing to children or we can use the power and money behind industry, combining a little social marketing in with commercial marketing to improve the diets of children (3). I think we need to work with food marketers utilizing their resources to change the course of our children’s health.
Here are some positive examples of food marketing to kids:
- Green Giant encourages veggie pledge
- Internet game teams with dentists to promote “fun instead of candy” for Halloween
- Pistachio nuts partner with ‘Frankenweenie’ film
- McGinnisJM,GootmanJA,KraakVI,eds.Foodmarketingtochildrenand youth: threat or opportunity? Washington D.C., Institute of Medicine, National Academies Press, 2006.