Monday, June 7, 2010

Is “It” Here to Stay?

In a real—and sad way—it’s our own fault. We allow it. The “it” is junk food, fast food and processed packaged food. But no matter what name you use for it, it’s still mostly lacking in healthy nutrients and loaded with empty calories. We’re all targets, and none more so than our impressionable children. While the First Lady aims to end childhood obesity, it’s not going to happen no matter how many healthy school lunches are served or how accessible we make healthier foods—it’s not going to happen as long as obesity is encouraged financially rather than discouraged.


  • Children ages 8 to 12 see an average of 21 television ads each day for candy, snacks, cereal and fast food, more than 7,600 a year.
  • $1,600,000,000 was spent on food ads aimed at kids in 2006 (mostly junk food).
  • The Council of Better Business Bureaus responded by establishing the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative as a self-regulatory industry body.
  • Jump three years later—in 2009 there had been no substantial changes in food ads marketed to kids.

Why? The explanation lies in free speech. We don’t regulate marketing—but instead “encourage” the industry to self-regulate. Do we really think that’s going to happen?

And now, we have “advergames.” Advergames are a blend of interactive animation, video and advertising, targeted at children and exposing them for extended periods of time to online messages that primarily promote corporate branding and products.

A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior analyzed corporate websites linked to TV food advertising aimed at kids. (Yes, many advertisers post their corporate websites on their commercials.) The researchers found the most frequently used strategy to encourage ongoing and return visits to the website was advergames, and 84 percent of the corporate websites assessed included online games for children. The study concluded that, “advergames are clearly a means of casting food with few health benefits in a positive way and potentially priming kids for a lifetime of unhealthy food preferences.”

Now, consider this—Did you know that every day, one in three American kids eats a meal of fast-food? And that, according to a study in Pediatrics, eating fast-food can add six pounds to a child's weight each year. Those extra pounds are no surprise considering that the average fast-food "value" meal contains 1,200 calories and 53 grams of fat. A few quick bites can yield more than half of an adult's fat and calorie allotment for the whole day.

Is self-regulation in the industry working? No. Is another generation at risk for long-term chronic disease linked to poor nutritional choices? Yes.

Have you considered the irony in how our “opportunities” to eat continue to increase, while our “barriers” to consumption continue to decrease? Are you ready to get involved?

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