The Scoop on Food

Marketing Junk Food to Kids

Marketing Junk Food to Kids 37795
In an effort to stop marketing unhealthy foods to children and curb childhood obesity in America, the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently asked five candy companies including Tootsie Roll Industries, American Licorice Company, Haribo of America, Perfetti Van Melle, and The Topps Company to join the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI).

According to CSPI, letters to the five candy companies were also signed by prominent organizations including the American Heart Association, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, The Yale Rudd Center, Prevention Institute, MomsRising.org as well as other physicians and public health experts.

On the plus side, CSPI reports that three of the nation's largest candy companies—Hershey, Mars, and Nestle—already belong to the CFBAI, a voluntary self-regulation program founded in 2006 and administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus (BBB).

As described on the BBB website, the CFBAI "is designed to shift the mix of foods advertised to children under 12 to encourage healthier dietary choices and healthy lifestyles." Currently, the three biggest candy companies in the United States—The Hershey Company, Mars, Incorporated, and Nestle USA—currently participate in the initiative. More than a dozen companies including The Coca-Cola Company and Burger King Corporation have also signed on.

According to Maureen Enright, Deputy Director, CFBAI, as part of the initiative, candy and other companies voluntarily agree to use CFBAI's uniform nutrition criteria to govern what foods are in child-directed advertising (CFBAI covers advertising on TV, radio, print, on the internet, and in mobile ads and apps) or do no child-directed advertising. Currently, CFBAI participants that make candy, including Hershey, Mars, Nestlé and Ferrero, don't advertise directly to children.

In a press release, CSPI notes that according to both the National Academies' Institute of Medicine and the American Psychological Association, children under age eight aren't mature enough to understand the persuasive intent of advertising. The press release states that, according to the Institute of Medicine, television food advertising affects children's food choices, food purchase requests, diets, and overall health.

I fully support this initiative as well as the encouragement of CSPI to have candy companies (and all food companies, for that matter) to do more to protect the health and well being of children. I'm all for anything we can do to better the environment to encourage kids to eat more healthfully and moderately, especially since kids fall short on many foods including fruits and vegetables and whole grains and tend to over consume foods made with solid fats and added sugars (collectively, these are called SoFAS according to current dietary guidelines).

According to national survey data, kids' between the ages of two and eighteen consume an average of 646 calories from SoFAS—or about one third of their total calorie intake. Current guidelines suggest up to five to 15 percent of daily calories from SoFAS. For a child or adolescent who consumes anywhere from 1,000 to 1,800 calories daily, that's about 137 to 161 calories, the amount you'd find in 5 to 6 Hershey kisses.

Besides focusing on advertising of unhealthy foods to kids, I strongly believe that we have to rethink our ubiquitous access to such nutrient-poor foods. Why is it that so many checkout counters at places ranging from gas stations to electronic stores are decorated with shelves of candy wrapped in colorful wrappers? And what about all those coolers, many also at checkout counters, packed with sugary beverages? And vending machines...they're everywhere, and they're usually packed with a range of snack foods, many of which fare more like dessert (fortunately, those with 20 or more locations are now required to follow new federal calorie labeling guidelines).

It's hard to resist the urge to buy impulse items, and what parent hasn't given in to their kids' demand for something at a checkout counter or vending machine at least on occasion? It seems to me that besides limiting or altogether obliterating candy and other nutrient-poor food advertisements, especially those that are geared to impressionable children, we also need to have rules about what and how stores sell food.

You might argue that businesses of all kinds have a right to sell what they want and to position such items where they want. But isn't it wrong on some level to sell candy and other such items at a store that's not really in the business of selling food? Or to sell food on low shelves, at eye level, where it entices kids? If we are going to make any progress in helping to teach our children to eat well, we need to create an environment—not just at home, but outside the home—that doesn't sabotage practicing healthy eating and lifestyle habits and teaching them to our kids.

CSPI has been extremely successful in many of their initiatives, and I hope this latest attempt to get candy companies to step up to the plate to limit potentially harmful advertising of less than healthy foods to children catches on. I'm not sure the rules will ever become mandatory, but achieving this would at very least be a big step in helping our kids eat and live more healthfully.

What's your opinion?

Image of chocolate bar with caramel via shutterstock.