As public pressure continues to grow on food, beverage, restaurant, and entertainment companies to limit unhealthy food marketing to children, companies are pushing back and trying to shift the blame from their products and marketing tactics to parents. Industry talking points emphasize the importance of personal responsibility, and argue that if mom really wants to reduce her child’s exposure to food advertising, it’s up to her to just turn off the television and ignore her child begging for junk food in the cereal aisle. But are we also supposed to keep our children out of schools, off the Internet, and never bring our kids to the grocery store?
Although it sounds simple, industry’s personal responsibility argument overlooks the pervasiveness of marketing in our children’s lives. Companies aggressively use a variety of tactics in a variety of settings to reach children. Protecting kids from unhealthy food marketing is near impossible, given its strength and that it is everywhere. If mom wanted to limit her children’s exposure to unhealthy food marketing and advertising, she would have to do a lot more than just turn off Saturday morning cartoons. For starters, she would have to:
- Keep kids home from school and off community sports teams;
- Disconnect the Internet;
- Go to the grocery store, drug store, toy store, and complete other errands alone;
- Avoid most restaurant chains;
- Take away cell phones, video games and iPads;
- Pre-screen movies for product placements; and
- Avoid toys or clothes that feature unhealthy food products or brands.
Parenting is tough enough—food, beverage, restaurant and entertainment companies should support parents instead of undermining them. It is also unfair to children. Children should not have to miss their favorite television show, miss out on school sports teams, or turn off all electronic devices to avoid being exposed to junk food marketing and ads.
CSPI’s and MomsRising’s efforts are not aimed at getting rid of all treats; kids—at the parent’s discretion—can enjoy occasional treats without risking their health. Unfortunately, our kids are bombarded with junk food ads that are negatively shaping their food preferences. They promote junk food as everyday foods. Companies need to create new portfolios of delicious foods that are nutritious and appealing to children and invest more in marketing and advertising of those healthier products. Companies should use their extensive marketing expertise to market more fruits and vegetables, low-sugar cereals, water and low-fat milk. It’s time to see SpongeBob on fruit, not imitation fruit-flavored snacks.
If you’re a mom who’s trying to help your son or daughter eats healthfully and is tired of being pestered to buy sugary cereals, join the Pizza Hut Book It Program, or pick up a Happy Meal toy with dinner, please visit www.FoodMarketing.org to learn more about unhealthy food marketing to children. And please send Nickelodeon a message that it is time for them, as the biggest source of food advertising to kids, to comprehensively address the issue of unhealthy food marketing across all of its media platforms. Nickelodeon and other companies need to hear from moms who, like me, are fed up it!