Food Marketing to Kids: Occupy Wall Street Applies Here, Too

Oct. 16, 2011 It’s Blog Action Day today which coincides with United Nations’ World Food Day, so my contribution among 80 countries participating is about food policy, profiteering and public health. Follow Twitter’s hashtag #BAD11for more food topics

Sibling scuffles often end with a thunderous “Enough! Someone’s gonna get hurt” scolding from a parent, so maybe it’s time “we the people” start treating food policy and practices in this country like petulant toddlers who want their own way?

“Because I Said So” is looking as viable as any governmental mandate lately, since spineless regulatory watchdogs continue bending to corporate lobbyists dismissing the will of the voters who have asked repeatedly to pass reasonable nutrition guidelines to stop marketing junk food to children.

As I wince and worry about the massive escalation of “Occupy Wall Street” with that “Someone’s gonna get hurt” refrain, I keep thinking of how the same dollar-driven protest frustrations calling out greed, corruption, and monopolies also applies to kids’ food marketing, schools and education, obesity intervention in health care, and flawed checks and balances from chasing the almighty greenback comes at the expense of our society.

There’s a huge difference in “what they say, vs. what they do” when it comes to using media literacy to spot the spin and deconstruct the rhetoric of food and beverage industry giants. (Commercial Alert also just spotted this HuffPo media literacy piece on junk food messaging contradictions by Donald Cohen of the Cry Wolf Project)

Truth is…dollar driven corporate profiteers aren’t just an ‘occupy Wall Street’ phenom…

…Those protests apply across the board in health, education and food arenas in terms of who’s being hurt the most in trickle down impact.

I met a diabetic cartoonist at the Health2.0 innovation conference who literally forced herself to marry a guy to get health care coverage and afford insulin for her Type1 treatments. I’ve seen kids sob not getting a transfer into decent public schools like a scene from The Lottery film.

And I’m thoroughly disgusted by the duplicity and disconnects of “the obesity epidemic” being undermined by corporate interests who work tirelessly to “undo” any smidge of headway we gain. (Grocery Manufacturer’s Assn 48pp pdf, response to FTC guidelines)

Time and again reasonable legislation is put forth to curb cruddy cues that plug unhealthy foods only to have legal beagles sic their dogs on Washington to snarl and intimidate Congress to back down in the name of “unsupported allegations of causation.” Bah.

How about some greater good common sense, people? (see Prevention Institute’s sobering stats on the $2 billion a year kids’ marketing industry, CCFC’s food marketing to kids fact sheet for a quick debrief, or CSPI’s fabulous Food Day resources and action kit)

Dig a little deeper in the polit-bureau of food marketing to kids debates and here’s what you find in media and marketing…Hmn, let’s see…

Viacom, the ANA, and leading food companies unleashed a lobbying blitz at the White House, Congress, FTC to kill off the proposed scientific-based guidelines when marketing to kids/teens by well-known First Amendment attorney Kathleen Sullivan—(w/corp ties having Disney, Time Warner, Google, the Motion Picture Academy, Yahoo etc) AND as part of the new food and media biz lobbying machine, they hired Anita Dunn, Obama’s former head of communication, to run a so-called new coalition called (wait for it!) Sensible Food

The “Sensible Food Policy” legal beagles (aka corporate industry food giants, note their site has no “who we are” section, just a “what we’re doing” section!) not only placed a deep political chill on the Interagency Working Group on Foods Marketed to Children (IWG comprised of the White House, FTC , CDC, FDA, USDA) but the lift of the veil reveals the “150 trade associations” behind “Sensible Food Policy” include PepsiCo, Viacom, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Time Warner, the American Association of Advertising Agencies, and the Association of National Advertisers!

Wow. Just. Wow. (Meanwhile, the IWG labors with muchos legal busy work and scholarly pushback refuting corporate claims on First Amendment issues –see full 6 pp pdf counterargument filed by the IWG)

In the “Occupy Madison Avenue” quadrant of my mind, I’m thinking there’s nothing ‘debatable’ about selling off children’s health for a buck since it’s proven repeatedly that mining innocents (minds and bodies in childhood) is truly just a slam dunk easy biz dev opportunity…

Parents keep thinking it’s ‘been handled’ and roll their eyes with exasperation being constantly undermined with new tactics deployed that skirt the fringe of legality and use loopholes to ‘get to the kids’…

Even formerly trusted sources get a double-take from those of us with whiplash trying to figure out ‘which team’ these corporate giants are playing on, like a shell game of ‘catch me if you can.’

No one is saying parents can’t buy junk food, the movement is simply asking manufacturers to quit undermining with workarounds off the radar! (see the entire site to get a feel for how this transpires online, and visit the ‘updates’ section regularly for new tactics aimed at kids)

As I’ve said before (pet peeve alert here) there’s nothing worse than being asked to work hands-on in the trenches with ‘at risk’ children in Title One schools to counter-market copious quantities of junk food misinformation sold to working class families (yes SunnyD/Scholastic, looking at you) only to have some “big food” industry corporate shill ‘partner’with in-school avenues to not just expose kids, but INCENTIVIZE them to eat and drink sugary slop for new free books and classroom parties? Bah. (yes, they’ve had a wrist slap via CCFC’s actions and cut in-school marketing 40% but still have a stronghold)

How ’bout we look through the lens of long term impact and health care costs over short term fiscal gain and stop undermining the work being put forth with sneaky sidewinders that put kids in the blast zone of very real life morbidity outcomes of lifestyle cancers?

Today on Blog Action Day, read through some of the global participants’ stories about food insecurity and agricultural impact of big business policies that are fouling up the food chain far beyond America’s shores. That’s right, we’re exporting our toxic policies and practices abroad to seep into other cultures. Just ducky…

What can you do? 

Read the Healthy Eating Research reports. Visit Digital for myriad examples of food and beverage campaigns marketed ‘under the radar’ of parents. Get involved with ‘We’re Not Buyin’ It.’

Start by “occupying your mind” and taking action when you smell a rat in media and marketing…Accountability. Responsibility. Wallet-whacking. Fiscal pressure. Get informed.

Stop letting it all be brushed under the carpet with a helpless shoulder shrug for the next round of pass the buck politics and take a stand everyday with what you buy, what you do, who you support.

I’ll be writing more on Food Day, Oct 24, 2011 as part of the EAT REAL campaign. Hope you’ll join me to pay it forward, for kids health worldwide.


Related Reading On Shaping Youth by Amy Jussel

Junk Food, Marketing To Kids

FTC Food Marketing to Kids – Are Watchdogs All Bark, No Bite?

CCFC Puts Energy Into Cleaning Up School Commercialism

Pink Princess Fairytale Flakes; Candy Bars For Breakfast

Bogus Junk Food Bans & Bait-n-Switch Tactics Proliferate School Policy

Peer Driven Junk Food Allure & What’s Cool to Kids

The Junk Food Hydra: Ad Industry Self Regulation is Oxymoronic

Kaiser Study Shows 50 Hours of TV Food Ads/Yr.

Kids’ Food Fight Turns Into Industry DodgeBall Game

HFCS Corn Wars: A Surprise That’s Far From Sweet

HFCS Ad Analysis: Media Literacy Mandatory, Dieticians Dissed

CCFC’s Susan Linn: $17 billion Spent on Marketing to Kids

Lifestyle Cancers: Two Most Preventable Causes Harming Kids

Sour Combo: Shrek’s “Apples & Milk” At McDonalds

Sugary Shrek is Simultaneously Stumping For Kids’ Healthy Eating

Obesity Risk Twice as High in Hispanic Children

School Sit-Ups Sponsored By Soda & Snacks

Healthy Student Vending Needn’t Be an Oxymoron?

Maxed Out On Energy Drinks? Pepsi Shouts, “Wake Up People!”

Parents? Stay Ahead of The Game, Literally; Kellogg’s Advergaming

Digital Marketing Tactics Revealed to FTC: Report At

Kellogg’s Agrees to Restrict Food Marketing to Kids!? For REAL?

Sugary Sodas Falter, Now Caffeine & Sodium Rule

American Idol Ad: KFC ‘Sneaky Snacker’ is Brandwashing

Advergaming Arcades Shift Toward Virtual Villages & Kid Vid

Sprite Yard: A Mobile-Social-Soda Hangout?

Deconstructing Spongebob: Reasoning, Research Pt 1

Deconstructing Spongebob-A Preschool Parenting Lens: Pt 2 

Mouse, Inc? Disney Bullies Small & Mighty CCFC From Home?

Scholastic: Treat ‘em As a Commercial Brand Like Any Other

Kellogg’s Agrees to Restrict Food Marketing to Kids, F’Real?

SY Brandwashing Data: Larger Than Stanford’s Study



  1. Thanks for posting about our video! Want to get involved? Stand up for kids health by signing our petition to President Obama, asking him to support the voluntary IWG Guidelines:

    Experts agree that junk food is a huge contributor to skyrocketing rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, and even strokes among adults–and increasingly, among children. And food and beverage companies spend billions of dollars promoting unhealthy foods virtually everywhere kids go. The Interagency Working Group on Foods Marketed to Children (IWG) has proposed reasonable nutrition guidelines to help provide a model for companies that market to kids. Unfortunately, the food industry and media companies are working to get Congress to stop the IWG from finalizing these sensible recommendations.

  2. Love your site. Thanks for taking the time to comment, you have sooooooooo much great info on there to take action, get informed, read up on perceptions and realities…it’s really a valuable resource. So glad we’ve connected. Here’s to a fabulous Food Day on Monday Oct 24 too! 😉

  3. Food is indeed such an import way we shape our youth. I work in health care and one of our patients was morbidly obese (400 lbs) at age 18. This is a terrible tragedy brought on by parents who ultimately must not have cared enough for their child to put boundaries on their eating intake. Without help, that person will be bound for a life of problems.

  4. Such a great resource =) Thanks for sharing. Kids especially are victims to billions of dollars of food marketing and we have to teach them while they’re young. Real food doesn’t need advertising. We should focus on what we can do to safeguard our kids and ourselves.

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