The FTC’s latest report on food marketing to kids: glass half full or empty?

Last Friday was a big day for releasing reports that federal agencies would rather keep quiet.  As I discussed in my previous post, the FDA released its long overdue environmental impact report on GM Salmon.

  • Total spending on food marketing to youth ages 2-17 dropped from $2.1 billion to $1.79 billion, mainly because of less spending on television advertising.
  • But spending on new media, such as online, mobile, and viral marketing, increased by 50 percent.
  • Cross-promotions that link marketed foods with popular children’s movies and TV characters increased from 80 children’s movies and TV shows to 120.
  • Cereals had 0.9 gram less sugar and 1.6 grams more whole grain.
  • Fast food was a  little lower in calories, sodium, sugar, and saturated fat.

Despite the commendable progress, this report identifies areas where further efforts could be made by the food and beverage industry and the media industry to improve the nutritional quality of foods marketed to youth.

Whether you see this as good news or not such good news depends on whether you see the glass as half full or half empty.

If you are a half-full type, you will rejoice that food companies are voluntarily improving the nutritional quality of their products even if the improvements are small.

If you are a half-empty type (which, in this case, I am), you will be dismayed at the lack of real progress in reducing the marketing of junk foods to kids.

Companies must sell more and more products to grow their businesses.  They are under pressure to reduce such marketing and to improve the quality of the products they sell.  Neither change is likely to increase sales.   Hence: resistance to change.

As Andy Bellatti points out, small nutritional improvements are unlikely to have much of an effect on health: reducing the sugars by 0.9 grams can be interpreted as “better for you” but does not necessarily make a product a good choice.

As I read this report, it provides plenty of evidence that stopping food and beverage marketing to kids is the issue that matters most to doing something to reverse childhood obesity.

The election is over.    Maybe Let’s Move! can revisit the marketing-to-kids issue.  Someone needs to do it.  And soon.

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