When I was a child, I admit – I loved the prizes and toys that were given away in breakfast cereals. I didn’t realize at the time – and what child does? – that the food industry was targeting me, in order to make more and more money off of me and my tastes in food.
Today, according to studies, at least one-third of all kids in the USA are overweight, if not obese. Junk-food marketing to children and adolescents has become a billion-dollar industry. It is estimated that kids watch about 5,000 TV food ads every year, and teenagers watch almost 6,000 annually.
When I peruse my Sunday newspaper each week, and read the coupon section featuring new food products in the marketplace, I am frequently astonished at the fattening, sugar-laden, high-calorie snacks that are repeatedly promoted – when what this country really needs is more low-calorie choices.
Food corporations such as McDonald’s now have child-focused websites in addition to their Happy Meals that target kids. These websites, with video games that promote brand recognition and brand loyalty, receive thousands and thousands of young visitors a month. For instance, in February 2011, 350,000 children ages 12 and under logged onto McDonald’s two main websites, HappyMeal.com and McWorld.com.
Americans should get informed about a study in Quebec, where, for the past 32 years, fast-food advertising marketed to children children has been banned both online and in print. The researchers there uncovered an astonishing fact – Quebec has the least childhood obesity of anywhere in Canada.
It’s no secret that children are unable to understand commercials for what they are: quick segments intended to sell them junk food and other things. Children may understand that commercials differ from TV programs, but they still do not understand that commercials are only venues that hope to sell them something. My opinion? It is every parent’s responsibility to point out to their children what is really going on.
Here’s something else parents can do. When I was at the famed Canyon Ranch health spa a few years ago, I listened to a smart lecturer who said that the best thing parents could do for their children was to send them to school with a healthy lunch. That way, you would know, for sure, that your children were eating smart, sensible foods, and not getting lured by vending machines, cakes, cookies and other items that are bad for kids’ metabolisms – not to mention their teeth. I believe that this is a great idea. That Canyon Ranch lecturer was onto something.
Here’s one of the most upsetting trends of all. Back in 2006, a large fast-food chain launched a marketing campaign to convince children to eat a “Fourth Meal” of the day, which is after dinner and before breakfast. Can you imagine that? The “foods” (and I say that in quotes) often had more than 400 calories in them. The idea behind this was to create a completely new post-dinner market. Just what fat American children need.
As a Boston marketing consultant, who is astonished at the level of obesity in this country, something needs to be done about the way food companies market their products to unsuspecting, innocent children.