Stop the madness when it comes to food marketing to children. That's the message from First Lady Michelle Obama, who has organized the first White House summit on food marketing, reported Yahoo News on September 18. Her goal: Persuade food manufacturers and entertainment companies to devote more time to promoting healthy options and less time advertising fattening sweet and salty treats.
Her focus: Reduce childhood obesity, which has already leveled off (click here for the details). Her challenge: Involve the multimillion-dollar food marketing industry in her mission. But can she persuade these companies to put their money where their children's mouths are?
The First Lady is hopeful, particularly in light of her successful "Drink Up" campaign to lure consumers to the joys of plain water rather than soda and sugar-sweetened juices (learn more here about that campaign).
Included in this new summit are "representatives from the food and media industries, advocates, parents, representatives of government agencies and researchers," according to the White House, which did not reveal specific names or organizations. And although the meeting will begin with public remarks, the majority of the summit will be closed to the media.
The million dollar question: Does food marketing really result in childhood obesity? Consumer advocates contend that the answer is yes. Backing them up are these statistics from the University of Michigan:
- TV viewing among kids is at an eight-year high.
- On average, children ages 2-5 spend 32 hours a week in front of a TV.
- Kids ages 6-11 spend about 28 hours a week in front of the TV. The vast majority of this viewing (97%) is of live TV, which is filled with tempting food commercials of fattening products ranging from potato chips to ice cream to soda.
"Most of the food ads that kids see are still for unhealthy food, which makes it really hard for parents to feed their children healthfully," said Margo Wootan, a nutrition lobbyist for the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest.
The First Lady hopes to make her message to marketers by focusing both on what they can do as well as what they should not. "It's also about companies realizing that marketing healthy foods can be responsible and the profitable thing to do as well," she said.
New York University food and nutrition professor Marion Nestle believes that strict regulations rather than gentle encouragement is required.
"Food marketing is the elephant in the room," she said. "If you're serious about childhood obesity, you've got to do something about food marketing."