One in three American children are either overweight or obese, which means that their lives will be shortened unless they lose weight. Corporations spend about $1.6 billion a year marketing food to children, and most of what is marketed, if not all, is junk food filled with sugar and salt.
In 2006, cereal companies spent $229 million to target children and teens, according to the report Cereal Facts by Food Advertising To Children and Teens Score (FACTS). The average two- to five-year-old viewed over 500 television ads for child cereals in 2008. As the report states, “These children have no cognitive abilities to defend against advertising messages; therefore, advertising to them is inherently unfair and potentially harmful given the nutritional quality of the products promoted.”
The report evaluated the nutritional content of 277 ready-to-eat (RTE) cereals from 13 companies in the U.S. and found that child cereals contain 85 percent more sugar, 65 percent less fiber and 60 percent more sodium than adult cereals, and 42 percent contain “potentially harmful artificial food dyes.”
The report makes some startling points about the cereal companies’ marketing to children: Not one cereal marketed to children in the U.S. would be allowed to advertise to children on television in the U.K., the report states. Only one cereal, Cascadian Farm Clifford Crunch, would be eligible to be included in cereals through the USDA Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program.
“Children are strongly influenced by the foods they see advertised on television and elsewhere,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
A report by Berkeley Media Studies Group titled, Fighting Junk Food Marketing to Kids lists ways that communities can limit junk food being marketed to children. The suggestions include:
- Ban products, such as sodas, on school grounds.
- Impose product labeling requirements, such as requiring chain restaurants to provide nutrition info on their menus or menu boards.
- Ask grocers to designate a “Candy-Free Check Out Aisle” to give parents an opportunity to dodge the “pester factor” in the checkout line.
- Use the conditional use permit (CUP) process to put a moratorium on new fast food or junk food outlets in a community.
- Ask retailers to put healthier items within eye’s sight of children and lower nutrient items on the higher shelves, or to arrange cereal boxes with the nutrition labels out rather than the cartoon-character-laden fronts out.
- Ask after-school programs not to allow food and beverage marketers to provide activities or curricula to the program.