Food Engineering

Kids, junk food and media-the debate continues

August 1, 2011


“We’ve created a perfect storm for childhood obesity-media, advertising and inactivity,” says Victor Strasburger, MD, FAAP and a member of the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP). “American society couldn’t do a worse job at the moment of keeping children fit and healthy-too much TV, too many food ads, not enough exercise and not enough sleep.” Strasburger is the lead author of an AAP statement entitled, “Children, Adolescents, Obesity and the Media,” which appears in the July 2011 issue of Pediatrics.

The AAP policy statement calls for, among others, a ban on junk food advertising (of which Strasburger says kids see 5,000 to 10,000 food ads per year), restrictions on interactive food advertising to children via digital media, parental discussion with kids on food advertising and more pro-social media platforms to encourage and educate children to choose healthy foods.

According to Ginny Smith, Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) senior director of communications, much of the AAP information is based on 2005 data, and there have been many changes in the right direction since then. “The number of food and beverage ads seen on shows viewed primarily by children has decreased 50 percent since 2004. Ads for cookies and soft drinks fell by 96 percent. Ads for frozen pizza, gum, mints, candy waffles and pancakes each fell by at least 70 percent.”

Much of this progress can be attributed to the commitment of those companies that make up the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI), says Smith. Under CFBAI, which was launched in 2006, 17 of America’s largest food and beverage companies apply science-based nutrition standards to marketing viewed by children, including television advertising and digital media.

According to Smith, GMA members have accelerated their efforts to help consumers build healthier lifestyles. For example, they have:

• Changed more than 20,000 products to reduce calories, fat, sodium and sugar
• Pledged to remove 1.5 trillion calories from the food supply by 2015
• Launched Nutrition Keys, a front-of-pack nutrition labeling initiative that will provide consumers (especially parents) with the tools and information they need to make informed decisions when they shop
• Applied strict nutrition criteria to advertising.

“The food and beverage industry looks forward to working with our nation’s healthcare providers to promote science-based and true solutions to obesity,” says Smith. “A healthy diet and physical activity, rather than bans or restrictions, are the keys to a healthy lifestyle.”

For more information on AAP, visit www.aap.org; and GMA, visit www.gmaonline.org.