Corporate America Profits Off Obesity: Why Your Kid’s Best Interest is Tossed Aside
September was a stellar month for marketers. In case you didn’t know, the month of September was officially declared Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and food companies have had quite the celebration.
Not that childhood obesity is anything to celebrate but if you’re in the business of targeting kids to make a profit, it’s a goldmine of a marketing opportunity. Approximately $17 billion dollars is spent honing and implementing advertising and marketing campaigns directed at children.
The media is just rich with possibilities, too. From the Internet, mobile marketing, and even the classroom, the ways to reach kids is practically endless. And don’t forget about the “kid’s meals” at fast food restaurants. Some parents take their children to McDonald’s and Burger King just so they can get a free action figure or Disney character in their “healthier” kid’s meal. If you’re a marketer, it’s a brilliant strategy. If you’re a child, it’s a high price to pay.
Preying on the innocent.
Children are vulnerable. With single parent families and latchkey kids, more and more children are left home alone with only the television to keep them company. And though the FTC tried to ban ad campaigns targeting children younger than eight, there was such a corporate outcry that Congress caved and restricted the FTC’s regulatory control.
So when Congress designated September as the month to raise awareness of childhood obesity, the opportunities must have been too hard to resist. All marketers had to do was hitch their advertising campaigns to the proclamation, announce their outrage at the obesity epidemic, and plan to collectively cut trillions of calories from their junk food to make it healthy. Never mind what kind of calories. The plan had a noble ring to it and the American public was sure to buy into it.
The American Beverage Association used the month of September as a springboard for marketing “lower-calorie, nutritious, and smaller portioned” soft drinks. In addition, they plan to make sure labels are clearly displayed on bottles or cans so you can plainly see just how many calories sugar-laden sodas contain. Wouldn’t it be much more beneficial to at least curtail marketing sugary sodas to children? Or put that money towards a new fitness center?
McDonald’s jumped on the bandwagon, too. They are the only fast food corporation listed among public health groups making a stand against childhood obesity on the Healthier Kids, Brighter Future website. At best they look out of place. At worse they look fake and insincere. Do McDonald’s ad men seriously think parents are going to take their kids to a fast food place so they can develop healthy eating habits?
Not if they know about this. A favorite on the kid’s menu, McNuggets, has achieved its own share of negative media attention. CNN recently reported:
“American McNuggets (190 calories, 12 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat for 4 pieces) contain the chemical preservative tBHQ, tertiary butylhydroquinone, a petroleum-based product. They also contain dimethylpolysiloxane … a form of silicone used in cosmetics and Silly Putty.”
It would take a broad leap of faith to think any restaurant chain is serious about promoting good health. Offering reduced calorie food doesn’t cut it as all calories aren’t created equal. As long as profits dictate menu fair, nothing is likely to change, and it doesn’t matter what month out of the year it is. Despite the claims, finding healthy choices for children at restaurants isn’t easy.
Ultimately, when it comes to childhood obesity, the best change agents are parents. Yes, it’s hard and it’s not always convenient. But the fact remains parents are largely responsible for what young children put in their mouth and thus, their overall health.