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Time to kick kid ads in the square pants
Lenore Skenazy

New York Daily News
Sunday, February 5th, 2006

'Ha ha! Got the French fry. Go nachos, go! Watch out for the shake! Kill the fry!"
There I was, dutifully chopping the salad for dinner, when I heard those cheers emitting from my computer-savvy son. And at that moment, like the hapless fry itself, I knew that I'd been beat.

Vigilant mom that I am, I'm simply no match for a super-sophisticated ad industry bent on devising ever-sneakier ways to market junk food to kids.

No parent can fight this juggernaut alone, even a parent armed with good intentions, TV time limits and a fridge full of fruit. Advertisers spend $10 billion a year trying to influence kids' food choices. They wouldn't waste their money if it didn't work. That's why a suit to be filed later this month against Kellogg's and Viacom (owner of Nickelodeon, among other TV properties) could prove a great thing for American families.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood are suing these companies for a cool $2 billion on the grounds that they are leaders in the field of kiddie junk food marketing.

"There is simply no moral, ethical or social justification for marketing junk food to children," says co-plaintiff Susan Linn. "Children have a right to grow up, and parents have the right to raise them, without being undermined by commercial interests."

Right on. Why do we allow companies to target kids in their quest to sell unhealthy food? We don't let tobacco companies advertise to children, because we don't want kids to smoke. We don't have Dora the Explorer Tequila because we know that liquor isn't good for young 'uns. But when your kids can't turn on Nick Jr. without being urged to eat SpongeBob SquarePants Wild Bubble-Berry Pop Tarts, they're in danger, too.

"These foods are high in calories and low in nutrients," says co-plaintiff Michael Jacobson.

Kids who eat a lot of junk food are at risk of growing pudgy, obese or even diabetic. The stats show that's exactly what is happening. So why haven't we put any brakes on the advertisers?

Because, so far, we have been willing to believe that any excesses are our own fault. When Advertising Age, bible of the ad industry, asked its readers, "Who is responsible for childhood obesity in the U.S.?" the overwhelming response was - big surprise - "Parents!"

Unaddressed was the fact that the ad industry deliberately circumvents parental influence when peddling its wares. Junk food marketers embed their message in computer games, Web sites, school promotions and toy tie-ins. A kid can wake up in SpongeBob sheets and tote her SpongeBob lunchbox to school, where she'll eat her SpongeBob macaroni with a SpongeBob Fruit Snack chaser. She's living in a 24-hour ad for TV and bad food.

She deserves a break, dare I say, today? And so do her parents.


 

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