Q & A: Marketing & Advertising

Question:

What is one of your favorite examples of a program working to encourage healthy eating, especially among kids and teens?

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Juliet

Communities across the country are finding innovative ways to encourage healthy eating. In particular, farm-to-school policies are gaining traction, with farm-to-school legislation in 35 states. Such programs connect K-12 schools with local farms that supply healthy, sustainable foods to school cafeterias. Not only do these programs support the health and well-being of kids, they play a role in educating communities, supporting local farmers, and strengthening the regional food economy.

Featured voice: Juliet Sims, Prevention Institute

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Question:

Food companies say that it is the family’s responsibility to determine what foods their kids eat. Is it really up to the parents?

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Juliet

Food companies put all the responsibility on parents to shield their kids from unhealthy foods—but when food marketers have access to children in schools, in stores, on television, and increasingly on the internet, parents have the odds stacked against them. Parents don’t decide which cereals to market to children or what image goes on the front of the cereal box—food companies do. One major study found that, at this rate, children won’t be fully protected from junk food ads until 2033. We can’t continue to allow generations of children to get sick while the food industry gets free reign.  Limiting the reach of junk food marketing helps shift the balance in the right direction. After all, parents can’t do it all alone.

 

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Question:

Last year, policy makers were talking about making some improvements to the voluntary marketing guidelines for food companies. What was the industry reaction and what’s happened with those policies?

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Juliet

In 2009, Congress commissioned an Interagency Working Group  (IWG)–comprised of the Federal Trade Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the United States Department of Agriculture—to draft a proposal laying out voluntary guidelines for foods marketed to kids. The proposed recommendations were released for comment last April, and today, this effort to safeguard kids’ health against harmful marketing practices has been effectively defeated. Food and beverage companies wasted absolutely no time in pushing back on these guidelines. They spent over $51 million lobbying in 2011, released a report claiming these guidelines would eliminate jobs, and issued white papers (falsely) claiming the guidelines violate the First Amendment. The IWG eventually bowed to industry pressure, and the guidelines were never released.

Featured voice: Juliet Sims, Prevention Institute

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Question:

Are kids in other countries exposed to this much junk food advertising? What are laws in other industrialized countries and is there evidence this is improving children’s diets?

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Juliet

Over 30 countries have limits or outright bans on television advertising to children, and several others—including Belgium, Portugal, and Canada—prohibit marketing in schools. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a great fact sheet on food marketing in other countries. The World Health Organization has put forth broad recommendations on food marketing to children that acknowledge the harmful impact junk food marketing is having on childrens’ health.

 

Featured voice: Juliet Sims, Prevention Institute

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Question:

Healthy food advocates criticize how pervasive junk food advertising is—but doesn’t advertising encourage competition? And isn’t it the right of any company to share with consumers details about what they sell?

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Juliet

Companies should not have carte blanche to sell products that make us ill, and governments have a right to put restrictions on products that harm health (the public health successes that resulted from regulations on tobacco, alcohol, and lead in paint affirm this point). An ever-growing body of evidence links foods high in fat, sugar, and sodium, along with sugar-sweetened beverages, to chronic disease. The extent to which companies advertise explicitly and directly to children is cause for concern. Young kids do not understand the difference between televisions advertising and programming. They simply cannot effectively comprehend the persuasive intent of marketing messages, and food and beverage companies are capitalizing on this opportunity to build brand loyalty at a very early age. Not only do companies market their products aggressively to kids, they also market them deceptively to adults making food purchases. In our recent study Claiming Health, we investigated the nutritional content of food marketed directly to kids. Despite bearing labels on their packages that indicated the product was a healthier choice, 8 out of 10 of the foods we studied failed to meet even modest nutrition criteria for sugar, fat, salt, or fiber. Food companies can—and should—do better.

Featured voice: Juliet Sims, Prevention Institute

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