A small story in the business section of USA Today is good news (I hope). It says eleven major food companies, including giants Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and McDonald’s, will announce changes in how they advertise their products to kids. The Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB), in an effort to respond to the epidemic of childhood obesity, has organized the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative to get food companies to “pledge” to stop advertising unhealthy products to children. These voluntary measures are supposed to go into effect by the end of 2008.
Evidently, each company is making its own pledge. McDonald’s, the article notes, will only promote meals with “no more than 600 calories, no more than 35% of calories from fat, 10% of calories from saturated fat, and 35% total sugar by weight.” Is that dinner they are talking about? Or a mid-afternoon snack. When it comes to healthy eating, the devil is always in the details. Products in Kraft Foods’ Sensible Solutions line, which has less fat and calories than their other foods, will be the only types of products advertised to kids.
Although the USA article was pretty positive about the Initiative, it did close with a quote from Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. Brownell says that the food companies’ voluntary guidelines for advertising to kids “are a good move in the right direction, the risk is that it stops here.” We’ve all seen that happen before, right? It is the rare industry that voluntarily reigns in bad practices that are highly profitable.
This article motivated me to dig a bit deeper. The eleven companies participating in its Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative have
“pledged to focus essentially all of their advertising primarily directed to children under 12 on products meeting better-for-you standards or refrain from advertising to that age group.”
Better-for-you, compared to what?? …The high sugar, high fat they were advertising to kids before?. Steven J Cole, President and CEO of the CBBB goes on to say, “These expansive commitments significantly exceed the Initiative’s baseline requirements.”
Here are some of the pledges:
All advertising primarily directed to children under 12 will be for meals that meet “specified calorie, fat, saturated fat, and sugar limitations consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 and other government standards. They will restrict their advertising to the ‘Advertised Meal’ that must provide no more than 600 calories; and no more than 35% of calories from fat, 10% of calories from saturated fat, and 35% total sugar by weight.
The ‘Advertised Meal’ will either be a 4-piece Chicken McNuggets® Happy Meal with low-fat white milk and apple dippers with low-fat caramel dip or a Hamburger Happy Meal with low-fat white milk and apple dippers with low-fat caramel dip. Scroll down to Appendix A of the pledge to see the details of what’s actually in the ‘Advertised Meals.'”
Kraft has pledged to only advertise products to children that meet its Sensible Solution nutrition criteria. Cool Whip Lite, Honey Maid Bees, Oscar Mayer Fat-Free Wieners, and Lunchables Pizza are some of Kraft’s Sensible Solution products. (Want to see the rest? Here’s the link to Krafts’ Sensible Solutions products.)
General Mills will no longer advertise to children foods with more than 12 grams per serving. (Be careful with this one, serving sizes are usually a fraction of what actually gets poured into the bowl or put on the plate). They also pledge to advertise only Healthy Dietary Choices to children under 12.
In fact, according to information on the CBBB website, General Mills has partnered with Nickelodeon (scroll down to page 4 of the pledge) to bring the popular Nickelodeon characters SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, and Diego to frozen and canned vegetables. The goal is to make eating vegetables fun for kids. Each package of frozen vegetables will also include stickers featuring the characters that parents can use to reward children for eating their vegetables.
Note, these are frozen and canned vegetables—not the fresh kind that you can get for a fraction of the cost in the veggie section of your local market. And, it is of interest, that the brands touted in the pledge are frozen beans and frozen broccoli with butter sauce!
Never good enough
I could go on and on, but you are probably thinking. What a crab…nothing is ever good enough. Well, in the midst of an obesity epidemic that threatens the world’s children with early onset chronic diseases and a shortened lifespan, then, heck yeah, promoting frozen buttered broccoli instead of the fresh kind and “apple dippers with low-fat caramel dip” instead of real low-fat, fresh apples is not really good enough.
Let’s keep on pushing and pushing until the industry really gets it right. But, we have to do more than blab about it. We have to buy better, cook better, eat better and, in this way, fundamentally change the market for food.
Big job? You bet? But it can be done. Just the fact that these eleven companies are now trying to figure out how to market healthier foods indicates that they will respond to consumer demand (and regulatory threats). When more and more of us choose to shop in the outer perimeters of supermarkets (where the fresh foods are) or in local farmers’ markets, you can bet that industry will be watching.