Advertising for Childhood Obesity

The federal government is taking a stand against childhood obesity, asking the food industry to change the way that it advertises unhealthy foods to children.  The ultimatum is basically change your food or stop targeting kids.  With cereal boxes covered in colorful cartoon characters and junk food companies offering entertaining online games, it is not hard to understand why children are drawn to these products.  However, the issue is becoming serious enough that the use of characters like Toucan Sam to sell products is being equated to the issue of Joe Camel, a cartoon used to advertise Camel cigarettes years ago before it was outlawed due to its appeal to children.  Will these companies be willing to make the changes?

This attack on the food industry is an attempt to change the marketing structure so that children are not being enticed into obesity.  Not surprisingly, many of the food companies responded negatively to the proposal.  They claim that they have already made several changes in their recipes, such as reducing sugar and using more whole grains, to create healthier products.  Kellogg, while they reported they would look into the proposal, was one of the company’s that claimed to have improved their recipe.

I looked at the label for Froot Loops, a cereal sold by Kellogg, and the first ingredient listed is sugar, not the healthiest start to the day.  To add support to the argument against them, there is also partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in the cereal.  This is a trans fat (aka the worst kind of fat) that not only increases levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) but also lowers levels of HDL (good cholesterol), which actually help protect against heart disease.  Over time, consumption of trans fats clogs arteries and increases susceptibility to developing heart disease.  Why should we risk the health of children and ourselves by not only consuming these products but also for allowing them to target younger populations?

The proposal presented to the food industry creates nutrition guidelines for companies advertising to children: 1) The product must contain certain healthful ingredients such as fruit, vegetables, or low-fat milk and 2) The product cannot contain unhealthful amounts of sugar, salt, saturated fat, and trans fat.  Sugar, for example, would be limited to 8 grams per serving, far less than the 12 grams that are in one serving of Froot Loops.  While companies like Kellogg have apparently made some changes to their formulas, it is necessary for the health of the consumer to continue creating a healthier product.

On a more positive note: When I recently stopped at a Wal-Mart to pick up a snack for my drive home, I grabbed mini bags of baby carrots.  I was surprised and excited to see advertisement for the new movie Hop on the bags of carrots! They were attempting to appeal to  children, sending out the message that carrots are an appealing and nutritious alternative to unhealthy junk foods.  This company was taking the tactics of companies like McDonald’s and Kellogg to promote healthy eating.  Cartoon characters sell products, so why not utilize this to sell healthy foods too?

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1 Comment

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One response to “Advertising for Childhood Obesity

  1. mpowers

    Part of the problem here is that companies have to be mindful of the bottom line. Especially when the economy is not thriving, companies will do anything they can to sell their products. That being said, I think it is a great idea to change the way “healthy” products are marketed. If kids are drawn to the cartoon characters and games that are on cereal boxes, why not do the same with other foods. Making healthier food more marketable might encourage all sorts of people (not just children) to grab that box instead.

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