Last weekend we watched the movie Fed Up as a family and it was like my Twitter feed on film. After seeing it, my 12 year old said, “It did make you want to go FU to the food companies” and “If everyone in America saw that movie, I think it would be better.” Seeing the film made speaking up at the McDonald’s shareholders’ meeting about fast food marketing to children even more important. Ronald McDonald is the Joe Camel of fast food and just like with cigarette marketing a few decades ago, as more parents become aware of the research on the harmful effects of junk food marketing on children, we are moved to act.
The research on cigarette marketing to kids was initially met with the argument “just don’t let your kids smoke.” Fortunately, we moved beyond this simplistic ideology and joined forces as parents, health professionals, and elected leaders to protect all children from tobacco companies exploiting their developmental vulnerabilities. We have seen the effectiveness of this action in reduced rates of youth smokers. A similar ideological shift is happening when it comes to fast food marketing to kids and the “just don’t let your kids eat there” argument falls flat when this generation of children faces an epidemic of diet-related disease.
Registered Dietitian Chris Stocking framed it this way:
Parents might be the “top influencer on children’s lives” but there is no doubt that that food environment (such as ads to children) do influence what people eat. Even so, if parent’s are the biggest influence, shouldn’t we make it easier for parents to make healthy decisions by promoting foods that are actually healthy instead of Captain Crunch? This is like having no regulations on alcohol, and blaming an alcoholic for drinking too much. Would you blame an alcoholic for drinking too much gin if it was sold in vending machines and at checkout lines or would you focus on changing policy to make it easier to avoid alcohol?
Even those of us who do not let our children eat at McDonald’s are challenged when they spend millions on advertising to create a desire in children for fast food. That desire can lead to feelings of deprivation when kids are told no and feelings of deprivation around food can trigger eating disorders. The rise in obesity and eating disorders are both linked to predatory marketing to children.
As Dr. David Katz put it recently:
“How can the whole of our collective responsibility for health be so much less than the sum of what we expect from its parts? Do we truly expect every individual — adult and child alike — to compensate with personal responsibility for the collective abdications at the level of culture, and corporation?
…there is no reason to choose between defending the health of your own body, and being part of the body politic, working to make the world a healthier place for us all. Collectively, we can put health on a path of lesser resistance so no one of us needs to work quite so hard to get there from here.
Taking responsibility requires empowerment. But even when empowered, leaping tall buildings in a single bound is asking a bit much of the mortals among us. The power and responsibility for lowering that bar — reside with our culture. Power over culture, in turn, resides with us.”
Today’s children are the beneficiaries of those who worked to bring an end to cigarette marketing to kids. Maya Angelou passed away yesterday but her powerful words are still with us:
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”
It’s time for us to do better and protect this generation of kids. See the film, read the research and take action to stop junk food marketing to kids.