|Weak-willed food makers need a
Albany Times Union
It's no fun to be a U.S. food marketer today, especially
if your product is nutritionally questionable and you're
targeting children. And it must have caused a collective
food industry headache to see yet another country -- this
time the United Kingdom -- inching closer to restricting
food marketing to children, something U.S. marketers
Ofcom, the U.K.'s media regulator, has proposed a ban on
advertisements for food and drink high in fat, salt or
sugar during television programs "of particular appeal to
children under the age of 16." The changes would cost
broadcasters an estimated $73 million in lost revenue, and
have an untold impact on food company profits.
Lest stateside observers start thinking, "Hey, why don't
we do that," a set of voluntary marketing guidelines is in
the works. On Nov. 14, the Council of Better Business
Bureaus and the National Advertising Review Council
unveiled The Children's Food and Beverage Advertising
Ten of the largest food and beverage companies endorse the
program. Cadbury Schweppes, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola,
General Mills, Hershey, Kellogg, Kraft Foods, McDonald's,
PepsiCo and Unilever, which together account for
two-thirds of food and beverage advertising directed to
children, agreed to have at least half their advertising
to children "promote healthier dietary choices, and/or
create messages encourage good nutrition, or healthy
Been there. Done that. Since its inception in the 1970s,
the industry-based Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU)
has promised responsible marketing through
self-regulation. To Michele Simon, author of "Appetite for
Profit," "CARU's message is this: 'We've got it covered,
so government -- hands off.' We know from 30 years of
abysmal failure -- whether through CARU or individual
corporate policies -- that self-regulation doesn't work."
In that time, the obesity rate has tripled for 2- to
5-year-olds and youth ages 12 to 19 years, and more than
quadrupled for children 6 to 11.
The food industry spends $36 billion a year on marketing
-- nearly $12 billion of it to reach children. Is it worth
it? Annually, children spend about $8 billion of their own
money and influence $300 billion of parental spending, If
effectively branded, they will spend untold amounts over a
Food marketing is but one of many factors contributing to
this public health crisis. But, as the Institute of
Medicine report, "Food Marketing to Children and Youth,"
makes quite clear, it is a powerful one.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest urges
companies not to market junk foods to children. But food
companies are unlikely to make this radical shift unless
required by law. Why? "They can't," answers Marion Nestle,
author of "Food Politics and What to Eat." "The conflict
of interest between the corporate and social
responsibility of a food company means that any move
toward self-regulation will be superficial at best.
Corporate responsibility requires food companies to
expand, to increase their quarterly earnings. If they
could do this by selling healthy foods, they would."
It's time we demand meaningful government policies on food
marketing to children. Some well-meaning corporate
executives may even be grateful to be required to change
course in the name of children's health.
The Institute of Medicine report aptly quotes Goethe:
"Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not
enough; we must do.