We’ve written a lot in the past about food marketing, and tackle the issue in some of our programs like the Chocolate Project and LAMPlatoon. So we were thrilled when we saw that First Lady Michelle Obama is lending her support to the cause with her Let’s Move! campaign, and held a summit of marketing executives and parent advocates to call for more responsible practices when it comes to telling kids what to eat.
According to the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, 86% of all food advertisements seen by children between the ages of two and eleven years old during 2009 were for items high in saturated fat, sugar or sodium. It makes sense, then, that if we’re going to get serious about lowering childhood obesity rates, we have to get tough on marketers, whose job it is to sell products and ideas. The sticking point in all of this has mostly to do with the marketing industry’s insistence on voluntary self-regulation, not to mention challenges pertaining to free speech and the extent of federal agencies like the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission to regulate business and advertising. Of course there are regulations on the books about how marketers can target kids, but so far, the industry has proven adept at exploiting loopholes and definitions to the point that these rules become moot points. It all comes back to the American public crossing its fingers that advertisers do the responsible thing and respond to a moral imperative, even if it might be bad for business (which it probably isn’t, anyway).
The First Lady and Let’s Move! are taking a step in the right direction by facilitating discussions between marketing heads and parent advocates. However, the real work begins in what follows. A change in gospel-like advertising practices doesn’t happen overnight, and Michelle Obama may have moved out of the White House before her efforts result in any measurable impact. Still, as any coach will tell you, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.