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They Are Marketing to Children Too…Imagine That!

They Are Marketing to Children Too…Imagine That!

I have seriously had to rethink, or maybe revise, the act of supermarket shopping with my young son. This is not because he is creating chaos in the house of consumer worship, in fact he is doing what is expected of him, he is coveting with abandon. You see virtually every box of cartoon-adorned cereal, candy display, or primary-colored, plastic-wrapped, synthesized foodstuff belligerently screams out for the eyes and attention of wanting children, of almost every age. It is a palace of wonder, desire, and temptation for the little ones, and a place of trying patience for those of us just wanting to make it through.

Instead of caving in and buying him everything he reaches for, I explain to him what the item is in the most objective terms, and inform him that we could go home and make something better than what is being offered here (i.e. bake cookies, bake our own chips) and for the truly heinous food stuff that cannot and should not be attempted at home (various viscous candy concoctions and inedible looking soda drinks with crap floating in them) I just tell him that they are used to clean the floor or toilet. But when I wrestle my attention away from my own predicament, I see tons of other parents at the market (usually mothers) bargaining, and often caving in to the desires of their children and marketers alike.

In 2006, the food and beverage industry spent $1.6 billion advertising to children and teens. Of that amount, $870 million was spent on ads geared to children under 12, according to University of Illinois professor, and the director of the U of I’s Family Resiliency Center, Barbara H. Fiese. In addition to her research on marketing toward children, Fiese is author of a new report that urges local, state, and federal governments, businesses, as well as community leaders to start promoting family mealtimes as a matter of public policy. In the report she bullet points the following benefits associated with sitting down to eat a family meal:

  • Teens who eat five or more meals a week with their families are less likely to smoke cigarettes and marijuana and to abuse alcohol.
  • Children who take part in regular family mealtimes have greater vocabulary growth and higher academic achievement.
  • Frequently shared mealtimes protect against obesity in children and eating disorders in preteens and adolescents.
  • For young children, family mealtimes mean fewer behavior problems.
  • Teens who dine regularly with their families tend to eat more fruits and vegetables.
  • Meals prepared at home tend to be lower in calories and fat than restaurant fare.

Now flagrant marketing of processed foods and the fact that many, if not most, families forgo the simple and communal act of eating together may seem to be marginally linked or wholly unrelated. But really, it is all part of the much larger issue of how we, as parents, families, and consumers eat and relate to what we eat. The system (and yes I am using that word both literally and metaphorically) is so efficient in keeping us engaged in the act of consuming the most appealing, cheap, and novel foods that we are steadily moving towards being purely consumers, rather than diners.

I will stop short of an all out food polemic and open it up to you the reader. How do you keep your family eating healthy and eating together? Are you satisfied with how your family eats? Is there room for improvement? Is resistance futile in the fight against the “system?”

Read more: Blogs, Caregiving, Children, Family, Food, Parenting at the Crossroads, Teens, , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

47 comments

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10:22AM PST on Jan 26, 2012

I agree- I self-published a children's coloring book about this subject in 1983 and was called a pioneer. I am working on the updated book to put it on amazon for downloading. Wish me luck!

4:13AM PST on Jan 25, 2012

Thanks for the article.

6:33PM PST on Jan 24, 2012

Totally Agree - Great Article - Thanks

5:03PM PST on Jan 24, 2012

Thanks for the article, I agree with Mary L, they have been doing this since the invention of TV, although now with all the other media out there it is even bigger

10:58AM PST on Jan 24, 2012

Good article. I am not at all surprised. Our children are future consumers - that's why it is so important to teach them while they are young and guide them into healthy living and humane choices.

Please sign my petition: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/give-a-pitbull-a-chance/

2:15PM PST on Jan 23, 2012

My daughter is allowed to watch PBS which has no commercials for things like this, and I DVR the other programs that we watch so I can fast forward through the commercials. Still, she knows jingles and tag lines for things I've never heard of. My simple solution: "No".

10:11AM PST on Jan 23, 2012

repulsive.

1:45AM PST on Jan 23, 2012

Thank you.

10:49PM PST on Jan 22, 2012

Really, there ought to be a Law! Especially should be prohibited on Kids tv shows.

10:44PM PST on Jan 22, 2012

This has been going on since I was a kid, which was a long time ago. How about "Tony the Tiger", Lucky Charms leprechan, Trix bunny, Honey Nut Cluster squirrel, and every cartoon character has had their pictures on everything from chips to cookies. Don't forget that McDonalds is the most recognized symbol to children and their happy meals contain toys. With all this a child will be lucky to grow up healthy and not obese.

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