I’ve been talking to Katelyn about marketing since she was barely able to talk. She’d be sitting there, all cozy in her cart cover, asking for all the colorful, fun-looking products. The ones with characters on the labels, and bright, garish labels. I’d explain how smart the marketers were; how well they had done their jobs. The marketers want kids to want their so-called kid-friendly wares, so they make packaging and in-store signage as loud and appealing as possible. Then I’d go one step further, pulling out those boxes and tubs of yogurt and cereal and bars and reading the labels to Katelyn. “Does that sound like food,” I’d always ask, making it a game. “Nooooo,” she’d say, and we’d laugh together. Then we’d pick up one of our favorite brands and read the label. Low sugar content. No chemicals. No artificial colors or flavors. No junk. Since she didn’t watch TV, she didn’t have that siren song of ads in her head, so I was able to steer her towards better fare such as Kashi’s Mighty Bites, Barbara’s Best Puffins, or Trader Joe’s Os.
I am especially sensitive to marketing practices because I’ve written about them for more than a decade. I get what sells. So do the manufacturers, according to a new 102-page report from Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity.
It was covered last week in the mainstream media, but the stories didn’t really do the extensive report the justice it deserves. I won’t lie. I actually skipped some of the pages, too. But when I saw another sort-of-related story in USA Today that reports how Kellogg’s added the word, “IMMUNITY” in great big letters on boxes of Cocoa Krispies, I had to take a go at this.
First, let’s look at the original report out of the Rudd Center. Basically, researchers found that the most heavily promoted brands — on TV, on social media sites, and in stores — are generally the worst for children. Kids who buy these bad choices are also the ones eating the most cereal. Sometimes, up to twice as much as a kid eating something healthier that’s got less advertising behind it.
Those super-sugary brands are spending big bucks for those results, according to the report. “The average 2- to 5-year-old also viewed over 500 television ads for child cereals in 2008, 89% of them for General Mills and Kellogg products.” Sigh. I won’t even comment. I’ll let the study authors do it for me: “In spite of their pledges to reduce unhealthy marketing to children, the large cereal companies continue to target children with their least healthy products. Child cereals contain 85% more sugar, 65% less fiber and 60% more sodium when compared to adult cereals. In fact, not one cereal that is marketed directly to children in the United States would be allowed to advertise to children on television in the United Kingdom.”
I think this proves that I was right when I told my daughter, way back when, that the food manufacturers don’t care about our health. All they care about is making money. Getting kids hooked, and keeping them hooked. Today’s news just solidifies this. Kellogg’s is marketing to parents, getting them to think that by buying Cocoa Krispies they are going to help their kids avoid N1H1. It’s sick, actually, this idea to prey on people’s fears to sell a product. But fear, like sex and wacky cartoon characters, sell. I’m hoping now, that more parents are aware of what’s going on, they will let their money doing the talking and stop buying cereals that are making our kids unhealthy and fat.
What kind of cereal did you eat as a child? What do your own kids eat today? Will your purchase decisions change after reading the report? Talk back and let us know.