Organic Consumers Association

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Should We Be Calling on Industry to Market 'Healthy' Food to Children?

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Children's Health page.

Last week at a childhood obesity conference, I participated in an important panel to discuss what has become a controversial strategy among some advocates for children’s health: calling on industry to market “healthy” food to children.

As Susan Linn and I explained in our recent article, any marketing to children is deceptive and harmful; it doesn’t matter what the product is.

Some advocates argue that as long as we are up against such powerful countervailing forces, why not use cartoon characters to get kids to eat their veggies? But that isn’t really the heart of the debate: if the only issue was marketing fruit and vegetables to kids and if the only people engaging in such tactics were parents, I would be far less concerned. But let’s not confuse well-meaning adults trying to get kids to eat right with profit-driven multi-national corporations targeting children to hook them on a lifetime of consumerism.

The real problem for me lies with the advocacy strategy of begging industry to set better nutrition standards on how they market to children. The food industry already claims to follow its own voluntary nutrition standards for how it markets to children. As many others have concluded, this system is a failure because it’s self-serving, full of loopholes, and to put it bluntly, the nutrition standards suck. But instead of calling for an end to marketing food to children altogether, some advocates want to simply make this system better, despite a recent failed effort by the federal government to accomplish this same task.

This approach is doomed because it keeps industry in charge, where they excel. It also accepts the current processed food paradigm, resulting in the absurd situation of advocates applauding Kellogg for “lower sugar” Scooby-Doo! cereal. (That’s the actual name of the product.)
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