Pernicious ads saturate children’s media. Yes, they’re advertising toys (truly a bane to any parent’s existence). But they’re also spending billions of dollars advertising industrial waste products which have been repackaged in colorful containers and marketed as food.
Generally speaking, I like Michael Pollan’s rule regarding food advertising: if you see a food advertised, don’t buy it. That’s because if a food has advertising dollars behind it, chances are good that it’s an industrialized food product rather than Real Food. A good exception to this rule are the advertisers at Real Food Media which I promote on this site — each and every one of these producers has a commitment to creating healthful, ecologically-sustainable food.
Yesterday, the FTC released a report from a hearing on marketing food to kids, and my reaction is mixed.
[Some say] the industry doesn’t need regulation, as its self-regulation policies are working just fine.
The research, alas, says otherwise. According to a report released today, self-regulation is a joke. An independent investigation of industry marketing-to-kids practices, by Dale Kunkel and his colleagues from the University of Arizona, concludes:
* Most ads for foods produced by self-regulating companies are for junk foods
* Ads for healthy foods are virtually non-existent
* Licensed cartoon characters are increasingly used to market junk foods to kids
* At least a quarter of junk food ads come from companies that do not self-regulate
* Improvements are negligible
She then concludes:
The food industry’s job is to sell more food, not less. Because restrictions on advertising are not in industry’s best interest, it is unreasonable to expect self-regulation to work. That is why we need government to get in there and establish some checks and balances.
As always, I feel the contradictory pulls of my somewhat libertarian “the-government-should-keep-its-nose-out-of-my-life” ideals and the cold, hard fact that there are some industries which have grown far too large and must be regulated in order to protect the people. I count the industrialized food industry among those behemoths.
The truth is simple: advertising works. And if a company can spend millions of dollars advertising its highest profit margin foods (read: the cheapest food products to make because of the overwhelming inclusion of industrial waste such as high fructose corn syrup and soybean oil as ingredients), then you can bet that millions of kids across the nation will start pestering their parents for those foods.
There are measures a family can take to protect its children from food marketing. My own family has eschewed the TV. Combine that with the fact that my children are home schooled (and thereby somewhat sheltered from the sort of marketing that goes on in schools), and my only real stumbling blocks come when my children spend time in other homes.
Yet, I’m not naive. I know my situation is unique, and it’s certainly not a prescription for every family out there. So how else can parents shelter their children from the effects of such ubiquitous advertising?
The FTC hearing concluded with a set of voluntary standards for advertisers to comply with. The proposals involve only marketing foods and drinks to children if they provide a “meaningful contribution to a healthful diet,” and suggest restricting advertising of foods that are considered high in saturated fat, sugar or salt. (source)
So, fellow parents (or other interested adults), what are your thoughts on this issue?
(photo by chrismetcalf)