Thursday, July 19, 2007
Ad giants vow to curb marketing to kids
As a vegetarian and the parent of a 10-year-old, I have tried to be very conscious of what my daughter eats. She started out as a vegetarian too, but by the time she was 7, the lure of burgers via fast food joints proved too much for her--especially when friends and classmates were reveling in their trips to McDonalds and Burger King. Needless to say it broke my heart.
As a journalist who covers medical issues I'm very aware of the fact that childhood obesity has reached near epidemic proportions in this country. Today, at least one in five children are overweight. And overweight kids tend to become overweight adults putting them at higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Not to mention type 2 diabetes, a disease that used to only occur in adults! According to the National Institutes of Health, if today's overweight kids become tomorrow's overweight adults, a staggering 50 million Americans could have diabetes by the year 2050.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cites a study that found about 80 percent of kids who were overweight at ages 10-15 were obese by the time they were 25. Who can ignore a statistic like that? Apparently not the Department of Health and Human Services or the Federal Trade Commission. Two years ago they challenged companies to change the way they advertise food and beverages to children. Eleven companies including Kellogg's, Kraft, General Mills, McDonalds, PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have now responded, most of them pledging to advertise only foods that meet specific nutrition criteria to children under 12. And many won't advertise at all to kids under 6. (Full Story)
Disney and Sesame Street have also jumped on board promising to incorporate healthy messages into their programming--and in Disney's case, into the food offerings at their parks. This "self-regulation" is all voluntary of course.
I've witnessed firsthand the advertising onslaught in children's programming. I've been through the "Mommy can you buy that for me?" stage -- and it was usually some sugary sweet treat, cereal or drink! There had been many requests for character driven products including SpongeBob, Clifford and Blues Clues snacks. So I welcome these measures with open arms. But in the end, I know that childhood obesity usually happens because kids eat too much and don't exercise enough. So as a parent, I can't afford to abdicate my role in all this and rely solely on these companies for my daughter's health and well-being. I have to make the proper choices. These companies have made a start, but will it make a difference? Are parents doing enough?
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