Food Marketing to Children

A story in today’s NY Times, “Under Pressure, Food Producers Shift to Healthier Products.” Of course, the headline isn’t fully accurate, because the article is really about:

  • How some food producers are shifting to healthier products.
  • How other food producers are reducing the extent to which their advertising of unhealthy products is aimed at kids.
  • How still other food producers are burying their heads in the sand.

The NYT story is based in part on the U.S. Institute of Medicine’s report, “Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity?” (we’ll ignore the fact that the title seems to present us with a false dilemma). That report costs about $35 to buy, but you can get the main ideas from the IOM’s press release on the topic.

Why is this an issue? From the press release:

Concern has focused on food and beverage marketing practices because of the increase in new products targeted specifically to children and youth over the past decade and the media’s increasing role in socializing young people. Companies spent an estimated $10 billion to market foods, beverages, and meals to U.S. children and youth in 2004, and four of the top 10 items that children ages 8 to 12 say they can buy without parental permission are either foods or beverages.

The IOM’s committee (which, in addition to experts on nutrition and psychology, included business profs and a philosopher), recommends that the industry adopt a self-regulatory approach:

Some companies and restaurants have recently taken steps to develop and promote healthier offerings, but overall the food, beverage, and restaurant industries spend the majority of their resources on products that contain high amounts of added sugar, fat, and salt and that lack essential nutrients, the report says. These industries should shift their creativity and resources to develop a wider array of products that are nutritious, appealing, and affordable.

(For a look at one of the industry’s self-regulatory initiatives, see the website of Children’s Advertising Review Unit.)
But the Committe also says that “A long-term, multifaceted national campaign should be initiated by the government…”

See also Andrew Potter’s useful comments on this story.

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