3.13.2015

The Food Issues Book Club: Appetite For Profit, Chapter 6

Hello all!  Welcome to the NOiG Food Issues Book Club, wherein I read books about food stuff, summarize each book by chapter, and then attempt to apply that book chapter's ideas to the New Orleans food environment and my own experiences.  Fun right?!  Check out previous installations here.  I'd love it if you'd read along and join in!  And now, without further ado...

Appetite for Profit, Chapter 6:"Responsible Marketing" to Kids

Summary:

Children are regularly exploited by the food industry.  It of course strenuously denies this, though it is incontrovertible.  Examples of marketing foods of poor nutritional quality directly to children abound:
  • General Mills calls its "Choose Breakfast" campaign unbranded, though its ten second TV spots feature its cereals' iconic cartoon characters and are broadcast paired with 20 second advertisements for presweetened breakfast cereals.

  • Coca-Cola claims it does not advertise to children under 12, while using product placement in television shows known to be popular with young children and selling logo-emblazoned toys that are age-appropriate only to those still in single digits.  It also aggressively pursues pouring rights contracts in elementary schools.

  • Kraft advertises only its "sensible Solutions" foods to kids ages six to 12 - but of course, it is Kraft that determines which products receive the moniker.  It also frequently uses well-known characters such as Batman and SpongeBob SquarePants on its food packages.
"We should not rely on the food industry to set public health policy, and especially not when it comes to marketing to children.  The corporate imperative to maximize profits will always ultimately run roughshod over the ethical obligation to safeguard children's health and well-being."  Simply put, self-regulation does not work when it comes to marketing foods to kids.  The industry either can't or won't control itself on this front.

Discussion:
An important topic with regard to food marketing to kids not mentioned in this chapter is the placement of so-called "kids' foods" on supermarket shelves.  (The development of foods specifically for kids is a whole other can of worms.)  Fortunately it's been covered elsewhere - check out Marion Nestle's What to Eat for a thorough discussion.  It's also not hard to notice once it's been pointed out: so-called presweetened cereals and other sugary packaged foods are often placed on the bottom or next-to-bottom shelves, giving easy access to little hands that are drawn to the colorful cartoon characters inevitably found on package fronts.  And what parent (or nanny or babysitter or human) hasn't witnessed a child completely melt down when faced with candy stacked from the floor to above their heads on the racks in the check-out aisle?  This problem has become so intense for shopping adults that some grocery stores have instituted candy-free checkout aisles.  In the effort to detoxify our food environment, changing rules about supermarket shelving could be key.

As luck (?) would have it, the food world is exploding with news today that a new "Kids Eat Right" campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has given the nod to the first food approved to sport the campaign logo: Kraft American Singles.  Yes, Singles will be emblazoned with the words "kids eat right!"  Because clearly what kids need more of in their diets is more pasteurized processed cheese product.  The logo merely states that Kraft is a "proud supporter" of the program, but there is an implicit message of endorsement by the AND.  Granted, this marketing is aimed more at adult shoppers than at kids.  But with its clear kid appeal - its colorful bubbly letters, for example - any kid old enough to read will surely point to the logo to convince a shopping parent that the "cheese" is a good choice.  Terrifying.

Of course, marking cheese to kids as the ultimate after-school snack is nothing new.

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