First Lady Michelle Obama recently gathered a group of powerful businesspeople from the food industry. The topic? How food, both healthy and unhealthy, is marketed (or promoted and advertised) to kids.
About 100 guests attended the event. They included executives (top business leaders) from McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Hershey’s, and cereal maker General Mills. They were seated next to several journalists, many of whom disagree with the way these food companies promote foods that many nutritionists deem unhealthy.
PROGRESS AND PROBLEMS
The First Lady highlighted the progress that has been made in decreasing rates of childhood obesity. Obesity is the condition of being dangerously overweight. Mrs. Obama noted that between 2008 and 2011, obesity rates among low-income preschoolers dropped in 19 states. She also said that childhood obesity rates are falling in big cities like New York and Philadelphia, and in states like California and Mississippi.
However, she says that “we still have more work to do.” One in three kids are on track to develop type 2 diabetes. The First Lady also mentioned that in the United States, poor diet now causes more disease and early deaths than smoking cigarettes does.
Mrs. Obama challenged food and beverage companies to place limits on marketing foods high in salt, sugar, and fat to kids. She said that the average kid sees thousands of food advertisements each year. A vast majority—86 percent—of those ads are for junk foods, while kids see just one ad a week for healthy foods.
The First Lady then encouraged the food industry to actively market fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy foods to young people. “You guys know how to get kids excited,” she said. “Through the magic of marketing and advertising, all of you, more than anyone else, have the power to shape our kids’ tastes and desires.”
During the meeting, the First Lady used the term “pester power.” It’s utilized in the advertising industry to refer to kids’ ability to convince their parents to buy things. Mrs. Obama said that according to one study, 45 percent of kids’ requests in the grocery store are for candy, cookies, burgers, and fries. Only 3 percent are for fruits and vegetables.
Some companies are working to change this. Mrs. Obama praised Birds Eye and the Vidalia Onion Committee. These companies have used popular characters like iCarly and Shrek to increase their sales. Of course, these companies produce fresh vegetables. A bigger challenge is convincing companies that make processed foods to market more nutritious whole foods instead.
What do you think? Should corporations market healthier food choices to kids? If kids see more ads for fruits and veggies, will they be more likely to eat them?