This Washington Post article isn’t the absolute clearest–looks like it was written as a last-minute rush piece, actually, but it’s worth getting to the end.
The basic idea is that in 2009 Congress demanded the CDC, FDA, USDA and FTC come up with a coherent set of voluntary nutrition guidelines for what the food industry can market directly to kids.
I’m not a big fan of voluntary nutrition or safety compliance guidelines for the food industry–mostly because industry players generally feel free to ignore or toy with them and then claim some kind of advertising advantage they haven’t earned. Voluntary guidelines also come with all kinds of soft landings and easy outs, and the proposed guidelines here are no great exception.
But in any case, now the four agencies have done it, and the food and restaurant industry is doing the predictable–throwing big lobbying bucks into a disinformation campaign-slash-tantrum.
How big? The campaign manager won’t say, but the preliminary guidelines report that US food industry marketing to kids 2-17 years old is currently something over $1 billion in three key categories (breakfast foods, restaurant chain food, and snacks).
So it probably won’t surprise you that companies like General Mills, Kellogg, and Pepsico have teamed up with ad-carrying media partners like Viacom (read: Nickelodeon) and Time Warner to try and quash the voluntary industry guidelines. Figure on the campaign to be spending in the mid-millions or more. They’d rather “salt and burn” instead of “cut the salt and learn.” And what a waste.
What will probably surprise you is just who this coalition–calling itself the “Sensible Food Policy Coalition”–?!!–hired to handle the campaign: Anita Dunn, a former Obama communications director whose husband, Robert Bauer, is still White House counsel. Not a really lovely mashup, there.
Why she’s taking on the food industry campaign so they can keep protecting their ability to market garbage to the young and vulnerable is one question. Why the FDA and FTC, which have the power to decide what nutritional and medical claims, among other criteria, are valid and can be used in advertisements to adults, let alone kids and teens, are bothering with a voluntary measure instead of doing a proposed regulation to limit such marketing to youth is another.
In both cases, the answer is almost certainly money. The food and media industries have it, the federal agencies don’t.
[As it turns out, the FDA and FTC don’t have power to restrict Big Fo0d’s marketing to the under-17 crowd after all. They lost that specific ability in 1981–start of the Reagan administration… Reagan’s “ketchup is a vegetable” declaration was the beginning for drastically lowered nutritional standards and branded fast food concession contracts for public school lunches.]
So the right question under these circumstances is, where do you want to put YOUR money? How about this, if the federal agencies can’t get a decent result and the lobbies are buying off everyone else:
Boycott the Boxes. Hit ’em where it hurts.
Box 1–TV: If you have kids, limit their access to TV, and teach them to turn off the sound during the ads. Do it yourself. Treat the ads like the silly nuisance they are from the minute your kids are old enough to watch. Tell your kids the truth: most of the products advertised on kids’ shows are too shoddy–and overpriced–to market to grownups. The companies make them bright and loud and cheesy because they think kids can be fooled easier (your kids should be beautifully insulted at that if they’re about six or seven years old). Go with PBS and videos you approve rather than commercial TV as much as you can.
Box 2–Packaged stuff parading as food: Skip almost everything that comes in a cardboard box or a plastic overwrap, or in a can. You can do this. You’ll save an awful lot of money by buying store brands only and cutting out the most pernicious items–sugared and high-salt packaged breakfast cereals, bags of starchy snack extras, and sodas, at least on an everyday basis. Save sodas and chips for parties, not for school lunch or part of dinner.
You’d do even better to go with fresh vegetables and whole fruits for most snacks and make a good habit for relatively cheap. They taste pretty good, don’t take long to fix, last at least a week in the fridge, and your kids won’t get sick overeating them.
There’s a reason the Pringle’s slogan is the very smug “Betcha can’t eat just one.” No one says that about carrots or broccoli, or even about apples. Ever eaten too many of those in one sitting? Didn’t think so. Vegetables and whole fruits keep you satisfied longer, don’t hyperstimulate your appetite for snacks, and they don’t put on pounds that take a long time to work back off. They don’t promote cavities, either. Even nonsweet junk foods do–all that processed starchy stuff sticks to your molars like glue.
Filed under: breakfast, Eating out, Food Politics, Food TV, kid food, nutrition, shopping, unappetizing | Tagged: Anita Dunn, child nutrition, childhood obesity, FDA, food ads, food marketing to kids, Food Politics, FTC, General Mills, Kellogg, Nickelodeon, nutrition labeling, PepsiCo, Sensible Food Policy Coalition, Time Warner, Viacom, voluntary nutrition guidelines |