On Toucans and Tigers

by

Oh, to be a parent of young children in 2011, when we have to cope with toucans and tigers on cereal boxes, and the threat they pose to kids’ health.

“I can’t imagine any mom in America who thinks stripping tigers and toucans off cereal boxes will do anything to reduce obesity,” Scott Faber, a vice president at the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents food makers and retailers, said about new proposed federal regulations to restrict the marketing and advertising of food products directly to young children.

Yes, if this were 1960, and cereal boxes and cartoon figures created for a box front were all we had to contend with, I might agree with you, Mr. Faber. But you know as well as I do that Toucan Sam and Tony the Tiger, and their presence on the cereal shelf alone, is barely the tip of the iceberg. (And of course, we didn’t have the levels of childhood obesity in 1960 that we do now – not even close.)

As I detail extensively in my book My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything (Bull Publishing), the creation of (high-sugar/ low-nutrient/ bland and flavor-void) food products for children as young as two years old – and the incessant and direct advertising/ marketing/ promotion associated with them – has increased exponentially since most current-day parents were kids themselves. Cap’n Crunch, Ronald McDonald, Chef Boyardee and others have made friends with some of your kids’ favorite book and cartoon characters, giving us a world where SpongeBob SquarePants sells Popsicles and mac and cheese, Spider-Man eats Pop-Tarts and Barbie stumps for frozen waffles.

The sheer volume of all of this “outreach” to children — through television shows, internet games, toys, movies, clothing lines, books, movies and on and on – is astounding. It’s to the point that even many parents like me, who do recognize the role of personal responsibility and know that we are responsible for our kids’ food choices, have to recognize how outgunned we are. $2 billion dollars spent each year in advertising food products alone to children, against…. what…me, saying “No, Sweetie, you can’t have that today?” Standing firm for your kids against this onslaught is akin to battling an avalanche, armed only with a small snow shovel.

Yes, you read that right: $2 billion dollars spent each year on marketing just to children, and that’s just food products. What further proof is needed that this advertising works, and that more and more of these less-than-stellar foods are being bought and consumed? Companies don’t invest that kind of money without results.

Are federal guidelines to limit the advertising reach, and to restrict what types of products can be marketed directly to kids, the answer? I’d love to hear what you think.

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