New Study: Parents Support Restrictions on The Marketing of Food to Kids

I’m catching up on news items from last week and wanted to share an important new study from The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity regarding how parents view food industry marketing practices targeted toward their children, a study which, according to the Rudd Center, is the first of its kind.

Surveying 2,454 parents with children aged 2 to 17, the Rudd Center found that:

Parents were as concerned about junk food marketing to children as they were about alcohol and tobacco use in the media. The surveyed parents were highly aware of the “pester power” of food marketing and its effects on their children’s food preferences.

Photo credit: Yale Rudd Center

The report also found relatively high parental support for a variety of policies to promote healthier eating among children, including some restrictions on the advertising of food to kids.  Specifically, the report found that:

The majority of parents surveyed . . . endorsed policies to restrict food marketing to children, with highest support for prohibiting advertising on school buses (69%) and requiring companies to fund advertising for healthy and unhealthy foods equally (68%). Parents also approved of regulations to limit specific types of unhealthy food marketing to children under 12, including advertising/sponsorships in schools (65%), mobile marketing (65%), TV commercials (63%), viral marketing (62%), and internet advertising (61%).

There is much more to be learned from this groundbreaking study, including the environmental factors parents cite most often as obstacles to healthy eating and analyses of the responses along ethnic and political lines.  The entire report is found here.

Given that food industry self-regulation in this area has been almost comically weak, and given how hard (and successfully) the industry lobbied last year against purely voluntary federal advertising guidelines, it’s clear that only political pressure from consumers and parents will bring about real reforms.  In quantifying parents’ views about these issues for the first time, the Rudd Center brings us a step closer to making those reforms a reality.

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Big Food’s Money vs. Children’s Health: Guess Which Wins?

In the almost two years I’ve been writing The Lunch Tray, I’ve told you about one dispiriting episode after another in which Big Food’s dollars and lobbying have blocked sensible and critically needed efforts to improve children’s health.  (Remember how Congress, at the urging of frozen food manufacturers, agreed to continue treating pizza as a school food vegetable?  Or how the food industry killed purely voluntary federal guidelines to rein in the marketing of junk food to children?)

That’s why I was fascinated — and sickened — by a comprehensive Reuters report issued today, “Special Report:  How Washington went soft on childhood obesity,” which gives a highly detailed accounting of how food and beverage lobbyists have scotched one legislative effort after another in the public health arena.  Put bluntly:

At every level of government, the food and beverage industries won fight after fight during the last decade. They have never lost a significant political battle in the United States despite mounting scientific evidence of the role of unhealthy food and children’s marketing in obesity.

Some of the figures in the report are stunning:

. . . the Center for Science in the Public Interest, widely regarded as the lead lobbying force for healthier food, spent about $70,000 lobbying last year — roughly what those opposing the stricter [children’s advertising] guidelines spent every 13 hours, the Reuters analysis showed.

[Emphasis mine.]

The report is not only highly critical of Congress, but also of the Obama administration and Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, both supposed champions of anti-childhood-obesity efforts. (I have also been critical of Mrs. Obama in the past).

Reuters describes a White House visit by executives from Big Food and children’s media, companies with a combined market value of more than $350 billion:

In the weeks after the meetings, proponents of tougher [children’s advertising] standards said, neither the president nor the First Lady spoke out for the work on healthy food guidelines that had been drafted by the administration’s own agencies. And industry representatives said their White House lobbying — which also included calls, letters and visits to the White House — proved successful on a hot political issue.

Nicholas W. Papas, a spokesman for the White House, disputed the notion that it had failed to champion the work of its own agencies . . .

But Papas could not point to any specific example of the president or First Lady voicing support for the working group report. Lobbyists on both sides of the issue and two key members of Congress said the administration stood back at crucial junctures, allowing Congress time to thwart the effort.

I urge you to read the entire Reuter’s report for an eye-opening education on the role of unfettered corporate spending in our government.

So what’s the answer?  How do ordinary consumers get their voices heard against such powerful, well-funded adversaries?   It seems to me the only avenue is the direct expression of our views outside traditional channels.  While I’m the last person to claim that the success of my recent Change.org petition would be easily replicable, it did demonstrate the tremendous power of social media and grassroots efforts to get consumer voices heard, changing government policy in a mere nine days and giving industry a real wake-up call.

I’ll have more musings on that topic in the coming days.

[hat tip:  Dana Woldow of PEACHSF.org for sending me the Reuters piece.]

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More on Big Food’s Marketing of Junk to Kids (Links! Studies! Videos!)

In the past few days there’s been a flurry of posting in the blogosphere about a topic much discussed here on TLT in the past — Big Food’s marketing of junk food to kids.

For those new to the issue, Big Food spends almost $2 billion annually on advertising processed food products to children, a viewing audience which, studies have shown, lacks the cognitive ability to evaluate these advertisements critically (see “Nothing Goes Together Like Athletics and . . . Doritos?”).  Children are exposed to an average of twelve ads for food each day on television, and many more via the Internet and mobile phone apps.

Past industry efforts at “self-regulation” have been toothless, categorizing junk foods like Cupcake Pebbles, Lunchables Chicken Dunks and Chocolate Lucky Charms as “better for you” foods that can be freely marketed to kids.  (For more, see “Fox Guards Henhouse: Industry’s ‘Self-Regulation’ of Children’s Food Advertising” and the follow-up links you’ll see at the end of that post.)

This spring, a federal Interagency Working Group (IWG) comprised of the FTC, CDC, FDA and USDA issued its own voluntary guidelines for food advertising to kids which would represent a definite improvement over the prior industry-created self-regulatory scheme.  But the food industry has fought tooth and nail against the implementation of these new guidelines, both by countering them with its own revised scheme (which still would allow the foods pictured below to be advertised, among many others), and also by gaining the support of House Republicans to thwart the IWG’s efforts.

So, now to the more recent news and links:

  • Prevention Institute has just released a nice little video called “We’re Not Buying It,” calling out major food manufacturers for their predatory marketing practices:

  • The excellent Fooducate blog has a recap of a study about the influence of television food advertising on kids and the degree to which parents can – and can’t – counteract those messages.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, here is a link to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s petition urging President Obama and others to support the Interagency Working Group’s voluntary guidelines.  Please consider taking a moment to fill out this petition and let government officials know how you feel about the issue.

 

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