Children's dietary and related health patterns are shaped by the interplay of many factors their biologic affinities, their culture and values, their economic status, their physical and social environments, and their commercial media environments all of which, apart from their genetic predispositions, have undergone significant transformations during the past three decades. Among these environments, none have more rapidly assumed central socializing roles among children and youth than the media.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Despite a month-long blogging hiatus, I've never really stopped reading and thinking about food news, articles, ideas and politics. In fact, in some ways I've been more engaged than ever. Instead of sitting down to reflect and opine upon the latest trends, I dove deep into a reservoir of food-related information that continues to shock, impress, confound and inspire me.
So in case you've been busy with your summer reading (Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, anyone?), one of the big stories I've been following, aside from the daily recalls of every food under the sun: Kids, advertising and junk food.
For years food corporations have targeted kids with their marketing campaigns. My own childhood memories are peppered with favorite cereals, eaten while watching cartoons that featured ads for those very same brands. Years later, it's not uncommon for me to sit around with a group of my friends and reminisce about the cereal ads of yore and then watch the old ads on Youtube. ("Gotta have my pops." "Brings out the tiger in you "Kid tested, mother approved." Google your personal favorites.)
Back in 2005, the Food and Nutrition Board and the Institute of Medicine conducted a report and published the findings in Food Marketing to children and Youth, a book that can be downloaded for free from their website. The report found that:
And yet, this report did little to galvanize legislators to introduce any industry marketing standards to protect kids. Fast forward to June of this year - a friend of mine posted this piece on Facebook. It cites recent research concluding that kids will choose food options that feature cartoon characters over foods that do not. Since I have yet to see a carrot or apple donning a recognizable Disney character, this bodes poorly for children's health. Then in late July, the New York Times reported that long overdue government intervention into the establishment of uniform health standards for children is being stalled due to - imagine this! - industry opposition. For years the FTC has "encouraged" the voluntary use of discretion when advertising to kids, but in April of this year it launched Admongo, a site designed to "ad-ucate" tweens in media literacy. As for the younger set, well, they're left to their own devices in order to decode the heavily researched marketing messages that ad agencies have carefully and calculatingly crafted to influence their consumer desires.
If you have any doubt about the power of advertising, spend a minute playing this alphabet game that I was introduced to this past week at the Washington State Food and Nutrition Council's annual conference. Can you name the product that each letter represents?
I hope sometime in the future there will come a day when the ABC's will represent Apples, Bananas and Carrots, rather than All, Bubblicious and Campbell's. I would even settle for "ABC" simply conjuring up a good Jackson 5 song.