Thursday, June 24, 2010

Selling Unhealthy Food to Kids

Full disclosure: I have two boxes of Scooby Doo-themed Gogurt in my fridge right now. Actually, make that one-and-a-half boxes. The boys hit those pretty hard today.

According to a new study, it's quite possible that my boys chose that yogurt because Scooby Doo was on the box. Knowing my boys, I absolutely concur. They're good, price-conscious shoppers, but given the choice to choose their own yogurt, they choose the Scooby Doo version over tubs of Dannon every time. And if you read the small print on the side of those Gogurt boxes, you know that the wildly colored product inside is not exactly a health food, despite yogurt's healthy reputation.

My boys' ability to be swayed by cartoon packaging is, unfortunately, all too common and entirely known to marketers. It's also having a detrimental effect on our children's health. According to a Pediatrics study published online June 21, boys and girls ages four to six said food tasted better when it came from a cartoon-enhanced package. Is it any wonder our children are selecting Trix yogurt and SpongeBob Cheez-Its?

Some, including study author Christina Roberto, are drawing parallels between Joe Camel of the past and snack cartoons of the present. I think they've got a valid point.

I've expressed my concerns about McDonald's marketing tactics before. And while I'm not entirely sure about the tactics, I don't disagree with the sentiment behind the Center for Science in the Public Interest's threat to sue McDonald's if the fast food purveyor does not remove toys from all future Happy Meals. Let's face it: If not for those toys, my kids would have chosen Happy Meals far less often. Often, my kids ordered Happy Meals solely because they wanted the toy. And while McDonald's rightly claims to offer healthy choices, my kids, like most, are well aware that Happy Meals come with fries or apple slices -- and that fries are the preferable choice.

Yes, I could put my foot down. I could insist on apple slices. I could boycott McDonald's and I refuse to buy any food branded with a cartoon character. But that doesn't change the fact that there's something inherently wrong with a bunch of marketers strategizing ways to attract kids to unhealthy goods.

That's my opinion. What's yours?


  1. Actually, I think happy meals give us the perfect opportunity to talk to our children about healthy choices and marketing. My family talks about making wise consumer choices and how commercials try to get us to buy things we don't really need or pay more for a certain brand that may not really be a better product. Children's programming is full off ads aimed at kids. Do we criticize Nintendo for advertising video games when they know our kids should be out getting fresh air and exercise? Maybe companies will stop spending their money with shading marketing to kids when we teach our children to be wise consumers who are less influenced by such marketing.

  2. We go to McDonald's as a treat. Funny...a "treat" being awful food that'll kill you. I have always gotten one fry and one apple slice package and split the two between the kids. It makes me feel better...a little. My parents began taking the kids to McDonald's when they were sitting for them...before we brought them there. They'd give my children diet coke, a fry and a burger. Both my oldest are younger than 5 right now. Gross. I don't want my kids thinking fast food is the unattainable thing mom and dad keep them away from, therefore driving them closer. We make healthy, very healthy choices otherwise. Actually, the other day I offered to get my oldest an ice cream from McDonald's and he said, "Um, no thanks." What?! And then I smiled.

  3. This always drove me crazy with my kids and continues to get me with my step kids. They purposely sell the junk with these marketing gimics and this is why kids are becoming obese. If the president truly wants to change our children as he and his wife claim they should make this packaging illegal for foods just like it is for cigerettes.

  4. Marketers will continue to strategize to hook kids. That's their job. Our jobs are to educate our kids about the dangers of the food served by McDonald's & to keep it away from them, if we feel that strongly against it.

    It's up to us, the mothers, to boycott this crap & send a message to these companies. When enough people do this, they'll have to make changes.