Better Living Through M&Ms?

David Kiley

The decision by Kraft Foods this week to limit the marketing of junk food to children via TV is sure to ignite many food marketers to follow the lead. But it all reminds me of an old joke. What do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean floor? A good start.

Big food companies for years have been doing anything they can to target kids at the earliest stages of life with food that wise parents find unhealthy. I recall my next-door neighbor's nephew--and this is 30 years ago--being hooked on diet soda at the age of four. My own son, three years old in a few weeks, gets to watch a little TV, but only PBSKids and Noggin. He is disturbingly conversant about McDonald's, despite the fact that he has never been in one except to get his diaper changed. This week he said to me, "Daddy...M&M's are for better living." I inquired where he had heard it, but he couldn't say. But the message was implanted.

I wish I could say I was one of those parents who pulled the TV out of the house and that my kid doesn't watch any. But we don't have that kind of house. Since my son is surely genetically pre-disposed to obesity (it runs in both my family and wife's), instilling good eating habits and exercise habits is crucial.

Children's reactions to ads are very different from those of adults. If an adult sees a product advertised and doesn't see it at the store, they are apt to forget about it. Since children do not have their own spending power until they are at least teenagers (in my house anyway) children intuit the purpose of ads, react to the stimulus and start making demands. "I want to go to Applebees!!!!!!...NOW!!!!"

This is why the more regulations and knuckle slapping over this issue the better. The obesity epidemic among adults is bad enough. It's worse among kids. And the Type 2 Diabetes that is rampant among children (I am a former sufferer before I lost a great deal of weight) is a devastating national trend that needs to be attacked from all corners--parents, schools, advertisers, regulators.

My kid doesn't get fake cheese. He gets only whole grain bread, no additive laden peanut butter, no sauces with high frutcose corn syrups. We are ardent label readers in my house. Frankly, none of the foods that are getting new labels would even be coming into my house. But, still, my kid thinks better living comes through M&Ms.

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