To limit obesity, teach kids young

January 04, 2010

It is now a stated aim of Congress to protect America’s littlest consumers.

It is now a stated aim of Congress to protect America’s littlest consumers. Call the lawmakers fed up with food and beverage marketing to kids that steers them toward products high in calories, sugar, sodium, saturated fats and trans fats.

The likeliest brands to be affected by possible legislation would be in the carbonated soft drinks, cookies, candies, cereals and yogurt categories, Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the Wall Street Journal.

A working group created by Congress has already proposed voluntary restrictions on such marketing, and the Federal Trade Commission has already acknowledged the shift by some marketers to healthier foods. Yet the threat of legislation looms if industry doesn’t move quickly enough.

The Grocery Manufacturers Association contended in Congressional testimony last month that the food and beverage industry has done plenty so far. “In recent years, we have changed our packaging to promote portion control, and we have reformulated more than 10,000 products to reduce or remove saturated fats, trans fats, calories, sugar and sodium,” Mary Sophos, senior vice president and chief government affairs officer of GMA, told the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. “Changes in advertising practices have resulted in a significant shift in the product mix of advertising viewed by children….”

She cited a Georgetown Economic Services Study that quantified a result of such efforts – a 31% decline in food ads on children’s programming between 2004 and 2008, more ads for fruits and vegetables and fewer ads for sweets.

Of course, we agree that ads that got carried away need to be reined in. But it’s a bigger picture to us at The nation’s battle against childhood obesity must be waged and won in every household. Our next generation will be trimmer and healthier if parents teach them – beginning at pre-school age – about smarter food choices, where foods come from, how they fuel the body, and how much better for them good foods are. The earlier these conversations begin, the likelier kids will thrive in a lifetime of ‘food understanding,’ and perhaps the less tempted they’ll be by the junk foods they’ll encounter in so many stores, friends’ homes, and after-school events.