As the news about the food industry “cutting” 6.4 trillion calories makes the rounds this week, the usual Big Food players — and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics partners — are patting themselves on the back.
For an alternative viewpoint, see Dietitians For Professional Integrity strategic director Andy Bellatti’s comments in the Los Angeles Times as well as Marion Nestle’s and Michele Simon’s take in Politico.
In this article penned by public health lawyer Michele Simon and Public Health Advocacy Institute attorney Cara Wilking, the authors mention that “all we seem to hear from the major food corporations about marketing to children are self-serving promises and announcements of future changes.” Results are far from thrilling.
“Following on past years, 2013 brought a steady-stream of failed voluntary efforts to protect children’s health:
- A study comparing children’s fast food ads to adult-aimed ads found that McDonald’s and Burger King crafted messages targeting children with a focus on toy premiums and entertainment tie-ins. Such practices were in obvious violation of the companies’ pledges to follow the Children’s Advertising Review Unit’s (CARU) marketing guidelines, and occurred despite numerous CARU enforcement actions.
- Ninety-one percent of ads for sugary cereals viewed by children were found to violate CARU’s guideline not to exploit children’s imaginations or mislead children about the benefits of using a product by associating sugary cereals with adventure, emotional appeals, play and fun.
- The former director of nutrition at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criticized the food industry’s nutrition criteria for foods marketed to children as “based…more on the current products marketed by its members than on a judgment about what was best for children.”
Industry is well aware of these critiques, and it also knows that one way to mitigate them is to befriend possible critics (i.e.: health organizations) by partnering with them and helping fund their efforts. Now, more than ever, we need health organizations to step up and join the growing crowd of advocates and policymakers calling these food companies to task. It’s the only way we can truly expect any type of shift to occur.