Who knew? According to a piece by Advertising Age’s Ira Teinowitz, the omnibus spending bill signed yesterday by President Obama contains a provision for studying which foods are healthy and can be marketed to teens. The study will be conducted by “The Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children,” which will be comprised of members of the Federal Trade Commission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, and the Secretary of Agriculture. The Working Group is supposed to report back to Congress in 2010 with its findings and recommendations.
Let’s stop for a second and imagine a world where junk food goes the way of the cigarette, and can no longer be advertised on TV, in youth magazines, in theatres showing movies with a rating lower than an R. Let’s also think about how the Working Group will determine which foods are healthy and which foods are not–remember that back in 2003, the USDA determined that frozen french fries should be defined as a fresh vegetable. Depending on how it is prepared, almost any food can be made less healthy; slather an apple in caramel and peanut butter, and it’s suddenly no good at keeping that doctor away.
I applaud measures that challenge advertisers to be responsible in their tactics, but such measures are not enough without the education to accompany it. Where is the U.S. Department of Education in all of this to determine the impact of junk food ads on young minds? Who is going to look at how unhealthy foods and beverages are marketed in public schools? You can censor, ban and regulate all you want, but that doesn’t make junk food disappear, any more than it has made cigarettes go away. Education–in this case, specifically and especially media education–is the key for real and lasting change from within.