The Checkout

The Latest Salvo Against Junk Food

The campaign against junk food climbs to a new level today as two consumer activist groups--both highly critical of advertising aimed at kids--begin legal proceedings against Kellogg and Viacom, the owner of children's cable TV network Nickelodeon.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood have sent both companies letters notifying them of the groups' intention to file suit in Massachusetts to get the companies to stop advertising junk foods on shows where 15 percent of the audience is younger than 8 years old. The letters are required under the state's consumer protection law, which is considered one of the plaintiff-friendly in the country, before a lawsuit can be officially filed.

The lawsuit may well be the first in a rash of new legal actions against food companies. CSPI, along with a coalition of attorneys who have successfully sued tobacco firms, had also been planning to file a class-action lawsuit, also in Massachusetts, against soft-drink makers for selling sugared sodas in schools. But today, CSPI said that lawsuit was not on hold as both sides are in settlement discussions.

In this latest salvo, CSPI--a consumer advocacy group that last year called for federally mandated health warnings on sodas similar to those on cigarettes--and CCFC say Kellogg (maker not just of cereal but also Pop-Tarts, Cheez-Its and Keebler cookies) and Nickelodeon are directly harming kids' health because the overwhelming majority of food products they market to kids are high in sugar, fat or salt or are almost devoid of nutrients. They surveyed 168 Nickelodeon TV food ads last fall and found that 148 were for foods of poor nutritional quality. Meanwhile, their review of 27.5 hours of Saturday morning TV shows found 54 Kellogg ads, of which 98 percent were for nutritionally poor foods.

Will the lawsuits achieve the groups' goal? Who knows? Some previous lawsuits against food companies have led to changes in products. For example, one suit against Oreos led its maker, Kraft, to reformulate the cookies, eliminating the oil that contained trans fat. And after several lawsuits and publicity, McDonald's now provides nutritional labeling on its food. It also offers milk and apples as choices in its kids meals.

Up to now, Kellogg has managed to escape a lot of the scrutiny given other companies. In a statement, the company said it had "just learned about this issue. Kellogg is proud of its products and the contributions they make to a healthy diet. We have a longstanding commitment to marketing in a responsible manner and our messages accurately portray our products. We will also continue to educate and inform consumers of all ages about the importance of both balanced nutrition and physical activity in maintaining a healthy lifestyle."

Nickelodeon has stepped up efforts to promote healthy eating, including running some very funny public-service ads that are certain to get a kid's attention and putting some of its most popular characters (Sponge Bob and Dora the Explorer) on healthy foods like carrots and spinach. In a statement, Nickelodeon said it is "an acknowledged leader and positive force in educating and encouraging kids to live healthier lifestyles." It said it is also encouraging advertisers to provide more balance in their offerings. "We will continue to do so."

Today, CSPI and Commercial-Free Kids said that's not enough.

Watch this space to see how this all plays out.

By  |  January 18, 2006; 1:10 PM ET Kids Marketing
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Where's the money come from? For these companies to hire lawyers, how do they get off of work? Do they work?

I realize these are organizations but who is funding them?

It simply just amazes me how people can go this far and be very serious about something they control. For ex, if my son or daughter want those sugary cereals or drink sodas, I as a parent simply say no. It just seems parents don't want to do the work of dealing with their children with telling them no, which is part of a childs development (they have to learn they can't have their way all the time). Which for reason reminds me of our president.

Anyhow, whoever these anti-commercials, anti-smoking people are,...I would really like to see them take a real stand for something, how about a stand against gun violence in Cities and fight for gun control.

A child being fat is the parents fault just as much as the child. The parent has to teach their child, not kellogs (geesh people wake up). Stop, trying to get somone else to do your dirty work.

I hope the judge laughs these people out of the courtroom.


Posted by: Frankey | January 18, 2006 12:01 PM

A new law suit charging cereal giant Kellogg and media conglomerate Viacom with directly harming kids' health is only the latest in a growing movement to use legal action against the problem of obesity much like it was used against smoking, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf who started both movements.

This new law suit follows six earlier successful fat law suits which lead to tens of millions of dollars in settlements, major changes in business practices, to bans on certain foods, and to a public apology, says Banzhaf.
In addition, a still-pending children's obesity law suit has been upheld by four different judges.

"Just as lawyers involved in the war on smoking used a wide variety of different law suits, so too are lawyers concerned about obesity using and planning to use a wide variety of legal theories to target many different defendants," says Banzhaf.

The Kellogg law suit charges that: Nickelodeon and Kellogg engage in business practices that literally sicken our children. The overwhelming majority of food products they market to children are high in sugar, saturated fat, or salt, or almost devoid of nutrients. Their marketing tactics are designed to convince kids that everything they hear from their parents about food is wrong.

This, says Banzhaf, is similar to an earlier law suit brought against the General Foods Corporation. The court there upheld the complaint which, in the court's words, "alleged that defendants' advertising of certain sugared breakfast cereals was fraudulent, misleading, and deceptive." Also named as defendants, were two advertising agencies -- Benton and Bowles, Inc., and Ogilvy & Mather International, Inc. -- which handled advertising for these cereals, and Safeway Stores, which sold the products.

These two cereal law suits represent one front in the legal war on obesity: suing makers of junk foods. Other fronts in the legal war on obesity include suing fast food companies (including, for example, McDonald's, which has been forced to pay out $30.5 million in two different fat law suits); suing companies which misrepresent how fattening their food products are (including "Pirates' Booty" and "Big Daddy's Ice Cream" which paid out about $10 million); suing companies which fail to make other disclosures (like Oreo Cookies which was forced to reformulate its product); and suing school boards (forcing junk food bans).

Malpractice law suits against physicians who fail to advise patients that they are obese and to warn them of the dangers of obesity; discrimination law suits against insurance companies which force people who maintain a healthy weight to subsidize those who are obese by charging all the same premium, and law suits against school boards and their members for selling sugary soft drinks in schools are also being planned.

Indeed, notes Banzhaf, a major series of class action law suits is about to be filed first in Massachusetts and subsequently in other states. It will target soft drink companies and their bottlers for pressuring schools to sell the soft drinks.

But, suggests Banzhaf, such suits will also inevitable involve the school boards also.

Posted by: Prof. John Banzhaf | January 18, 2006 12:08 PM

You're missing the point of these so-called "activist" groups. Advertising restrictions, the removal of soda machines from schools, some kind of government-mandated bottom-line nutritonal content percentage in foods aren't enough. Of course they think those changes aren't enough. It's never enough for them. These smaller policy goals that they push for, fueled by the media-driven hysteria over an "obesity epidemic", and lawsuits against food companies, are just steps on the road to their real goal--the banning of "junk food", period. And who would define "junk food" for the federal regulators? The activist groups, of course. In addition to criminalizing the manufacture, sale or consumption of Cheetos and Mountain Dew, they also want the government to set strict daily caloric limits on everyone, along with mandatory servings of fruits and vegetables and compulsory exercise regimens. All in the name of public health, which covers just about everything.

Think I'm kidding? The concept of a "fat tax" would have been absurd ten years ago. Not so crazy now, is it? Why is that? We used to live in a country that generally let self-reliance and common sense set the parameters of society. No more. Our nation is now a place where professional policy zealots (and venal trial lawyers eagerly seeking jackpot justice legal fees) make their livings by constantly pushing for new government "wars" against an ever-increasing panoply of social ailments. Of course, this only results in more and more government involvement in and control over people's daily lives, more and more cynicism and disregard for the overweening authorities, and less and less freedom. Thought the gun and drug smugglers were doing big business? Eventually, we'll start hearing breathless reports about the nefarious "fat lords" who are setting up "fat rings" to smuggle french fries and potato chips into the police state that was once the Land of the Free.

Posted by: LuvMlkShks | January 18, 2006 12:14 PM

You know as I was reading other comments, I noticed how many times the word attorney showed up and I started to think, what if?

These anti-sugar groups were funded under the table of course, by attorneys who go out and seek and convince a certain group of bored housewives that TV and Kellogs is trying to kill your children.

I'm kidding of course but it is possible some of these groups could be funded by a group of sneaky attorneys.

Just thinking...not paranoid.


Posted by: Frankey | January 18, 2006 1:00 PM

Ok, I just went and looked up the amount of sugar in fruits wow!!

Despite it being natural some dr.'s tell people on diets to avoid certain fruits.

Now, how do we explain that to our kids.

Posted by: Frankey | January 18, 2006 1:31 PM

Laugh if you want to, but people are incredibly unaware of proper nutrition these days. Thanks to aggressive marketing by companies and to underfunded education efforts, a lot of people have no idea just how harmful for them some foods are. Marketing to children is a very deliberate element of a strategy to get people eating junk food all the time, all their lives. Artifical flavors, artifical colors, sugar, fat and no nutrients, and that's the American diet these days.

Those who oppose it are dismissed as hysterics, and usually their critics are the same ones stuffing their 1,500-calorie (40 percent of them from fat!) Big Mac and large fries into their fat mouths.

I say more power to the activists. This is an issue that deserves serious attention, and if it takes litigation to bring it to light, so be it.

Posted by: SteveG | January 18, 2006 1:59 PM

I am a critic and eat properly as much as possible which I also teach my children to do.

So, your pro-stance on critics is wrong.

And, I still say it's the parents fault.

Posted by: NoBigMacs4Me | January 18, 2006 2:04 PM

"Those who oppose it are dismissed as hysterics, and usually their critics are the same ones stuffing their 1,500-calorie (40 percent of them from fat!) Big Mac and large fries into their fat mouths."

Listen to yourself. "..their fat mouths." Sounds like you have some anger towards people. What gives you the right to treat people with contempt because they do/are something you don't/aren't? What gives you the right to try to tell them how to live their lives, to impose your views on them? And don't give me that "higher health care costs for the rest of us" b.s. Because you can make statistics say whatever you want them to, you can "link" higher health care costs to just about any conceivable human activity. Where does it end? BTW, I'm 6'2" / 185 lbs, and I don't eat fast food.

Posted by: LuvMlkShks | January 18, 2006 2:16 PM

Nobody's trying to tell anybody how to live their lives. That's one of the many falsehoods that people raise in objection to efforts to call attention to things.

As I read it, all this lawsuit is trying to do is to reduce the amount of advertising for unhealthy food that children see at an age when their parents are still trying to teach them wise from unwise choices.

I do agree that the parents bear a great deal of responsibility. But parents who want to teach their children healthy eating habits are hardly on a level playing field, up against big-money advertisers.

The two people who answered me both assert that they eat healthily. That's great for you. But many people don't, and while it is true that they could choose to eat better, it is also true that many of them never got good training and information on how to, and they formed habits as children that can be hard to break as adults.

If activist groups can call attention to the poor nutritional education that many children get from Ronald McDonald and Tony the Tiger, that can only be good.

By the way, I don't have contempt for fat people ... I am one! But I do think that people who struggle with weight problems are not helped by getting angry at the idea that someone might want to discourage unhealthy habits. Granted, that was probably an unfair generalization on my part, but my larger point stands.

Posted by: SteveG | January 18, 2006 2:31 PM

Ok SteveG, good points, but again it's not Tony the Tiger or Mr. McDonalds who is to blame.

I am staying with my earlier comment, parents (adult mature people) are to blame.

Here's another item to think about, how many hours do these parents allow their kids to sit in front of a TV?

I allow certain shows at certain times, and believe or not my daughter actually eats fruit slices (apples and oranges), while watching her show, and for something crunchy to replace the chip I give her rice cakes and she loves it.

So it can be done and I'm sick of these people who insist its someone else's fault for their bad habits.

Stop watching so much tv and parents need to cook at home more which has been discovered as well.

Parents, parents, parents are to blame!!

I can't say it enough, stop trying to get someone else to do your dirty work.

Posted by: Frankey | January 18, 2006 2:49 PM

Notwithstanding the role of parents, the lure of advertising, the innocence of children, etc. etc., the main culprit here are huge marketing departments. I'm all for capitalism and choice, but as a society we're being steered towards substandard products and fattening foods just so the marketing department of X corporation hits its figures and advertising revenue is generated. Why would marketing departments exist except to spin the truth about an otherwise mediocre product? True, parents can and should be the mediators of their childrens' diets and activities, but all this marketing is sinking into their kids' brains, and those children will eventually be growing up and making their own choices.

Posted by: GetRidOfMarketingDepts | January 18, 2006 2:52 PM

Both sides are well funded. How much do you want to bet that the person posting as LuvMlkShks is a lobbyist or lawyer for for food groups? They exist and they spew lies and propaganda. The luvmlkshks seems like they have a lot of time and energy to spend on this subject. I for one have no sympathy for Kraft, McDonalds and others.

Posted by: Jake | January 18, 2006 3:04 PM

Look, somebody somewhere paid thousands of dollars for their child to go to college and become a marketing speicalist.

They sit and brag about how successful their child is in the marketing world.

The same applies for the kids that do the math in forecasting numbers (revenue, monies), and they too have a mortgage, cars, credit cards and probably kids, just like you.

They are simply doing their jobs, as marketing and accounting people (that's it that's all).

Again, too much TV and learning to tell your child no. You know I'm sick of giving up all my talents.

But here's another one, I sit and draw pictures to my daughter and explain how dangerous it is to eat a lot of sugar, not only will you get fat but you will lose your teeth. And, she looks at those funny pictures and laughs but she gets it and shares her information with her friends.

Those people are doing their jobs, and if you try and decrease the marketing of a product you decrease the job opportunities out there for those parents that pay big money for their childs success, and that definitely is an area that these activist never compensate.

Posted by: Innocent Market People | January 18, 2006 3:11 PM

I dislike the use of the word "epidemic" when describing Americans' rising obesity levels, but I think it should be obvious to anyone who has been to the mall lately that it is a problem. I have always been one who believes in personal responsibility. Fat kids are not the fault of McDonald's or even the kid themself - it's the parents who are supposed to be teaching them how to eat healthy and have enough backbone to tell them no when they want to eat something they saw on TV. I do understand that TV does influence kids. Afterall, I asked Mom to buy me some spinach because that's what Popeye ate (needless to say, after tasting canned spinach I decided being a weakling wasn't as bad as people make it out to be). But my mom made sure we had real meals and limited our snacks. Nothing was really off limits, it was just limited.

I am mixed with regards to lawsuits. A lawsuit to force a manufacturer or retailer to accurately disclose the properties of their product seems legitimate to me. We can't make informed decisions without accurate information. When KFC tried to market their fried chicken as "healthy" (without the skin, of course) that was misleading. At least Hardee's doesn't pretend with their Thickburger (gotta try that someday when I have no where to be the next day). I can respect the honesty of an indulgence. Lawsuits that cry "Burger King made me fat!" are a waste of time. Not all food has to be healthy. It's up to you to limit your splurging.

And it's no use being mean to fat people either and talking down to them. Most of us know when we're doing bad things to our bodies and we don't need anyone piling on the guilt. How about being encouraging instead of hateful?

Having so many overweight people in America probably does contribute to higher health costs, but that's not what bothers me. I just feel for unhealthy people that could be healthy if they made the right choices. As a former skinner kid, turned bloating corporate employee, turned lifestyle reformed (mostly) healthy eater and exerciser I know the benefits of being healthy. Perhaps if the people suing companies for advertising their legal products spent the money on advertising the benefits of fruits and vegetables and such then it would make an actual difference. Doing it with SpongeBob and Dora as spokespeople (spokestoons?) is a brilliant idea to reach kids.

Posted by: JC | January 18, 2006 3:18 PM

I was thinking, the people that would take the time to read the nutritional value are the people who don't eat at fast food places all the time.

People know its not good for them but take on a whole different attitude "I don't care".

Posted by: Frankey | January 18, 2006 3:25 PM

LuvMlkShks and Frankey are 100% correct. If you're too lazy or too stupid to read the nutrition label on a box of cereal or to educate yourself about what constitutes a healthy lifestyle, you deserve what happens to you or your children.

If these groups really wanted to help and not to enrich the lawyers who fund their efforts, they'd spend their money on educating these supposed masses of people who are uneducated about nutrition. Come on...they're just lazy!

SteveG infers that there's no real cost to the rest of us from the actions of these groups. Prof. John Banzhaf's post suggests otherwise. Who do you think is going to pay for these lawsuits? Certainly not the magnificent Prof. B who wants to run everyone's life. The "fat tax" is one of his ideas, folks. Wake up and smell the coffee, now, because if Prof. B has his way, that will be gone soon, too.

By the way, I rarely eat at fast food restaurants, am an amateur bicycle racer, and don't work for any company that has an interest in this fight. I just happen to like my freedom to make choices. People like Prof. B scare me.

Posted by: Getoutofmylife | January 18, 2006 3:35 PM

I'm not a lawyer, or a lobbyist, or public policy person for the nefarious food companies. I have no connection to them at all. I love how the food police automatically assume that someone who opposes their agenda is some kind of mercenary. They just can't imagine why a normal, somewhat thoughtful person would criticize them. To them, "the public" that they are so eager to save from itself consists of a bunch of over-worked, harried, distracted people who do not have the time or intelligence to do what is best for themselves or their children. The food police believe that they must do for the public what it cannot be trusted to do for itself. JC says that lawsuits to ensure that the public has enough information to make informed choices are legitimate. Maybe, as far as it goes. But then when that information is provided the super-nannies will say that people just don't have enough time to deal with such things, so government should do it for them. JC says that not all food has to healthy. I agree absolutely. Problem is, the food police don't.

Posted by: LuvMlkShks | January 18, 2006 4:01 PM

LuvMlkShks...come clean, you are steve berman from the organization consumer freedom. the organization is funded by restraunts and calls the center for science "food police" and nannies and has a devoted an entire website to slandering them. If you are not him you are one of his minions or a brain washed devotee.

Posted by: Jessica | January 18, 2006 4:47 PM

Jessica...Is it hard for you to make informed choices? Why do you think that it's any harder for anyone else to make those choices? Are you just that much smarter than everyone else or is it that you just think that everyone else is stupid. Therefore, we need someone like you and Professor B to hold our hand.

Posted by: Getoutofmylife | January 18, 2006 5:05 PM

Ok, I think it's time for me to leave,but I stand my opinions 100%.

Two grown "college educated" adults should be able to handle their children and guide them in the right direction as for what to put into their bodies.

As for Jessica, the conspiracy lies with the activist not the realist.

Posted by: Frankey | January 18, 2006 5:10 PM

While it's impossible for me to prove a negative in this type of forum without giving out personal information, I'll go through the motions anyway. I'm not Steve Berman (whom I've never heard of), or a representative of Consumer Freedom (which I've never heard of), or one of his minions or a brainwashed devotee. And thank you for demonstrating the accuracy of my earlier statement about how the food police characterize those who disagree with them.

Posted by: LuvMlkShks | January 18, 2006 5:12 PM

On the other hand, look at how you're characterizing people you don't agree with as "food police."

Maybe if the people who disagree on this issue spent more time discussing their reasons rather than impugning one another's motives, progress might be made.

Posted by: SteveG | January 18, 2006 5:47 PM

My great grandson will be three years old next month and love the cartoon shows. He has no idea what McDonald serves and seldom eat a burger or fries. Why? because his grandmother eats health without the help of a food patrol.

It is called teach your children to eat health. Not! call the food police.

Posted by: Willie White | January 18, 2006 9:11 PM

You folks who are arguing that you eat well and each your children to do the same are completely missing the point. It's great that you do, but that doesn't help the millions upon millions of people who don't.

Put aside all the exaggerated worries that the "food police" want to outlaw ice cream, and look at what's actually being discussed here. The point of the article is that the consumer groups are saying there should be less marketing of fatty, sugary unhealty food directly to children.

What sane person would disagree with that goal?

The food industry spends billions of dollars advertising to children, and then they put a significant amount of effort into trying to ridicule and discredit anyone who argues that that may not be a good thing.

What are they trying to hide?

Posted by: SteveG | January 18, 2006 9:42 PM

To Steve G:

Regarding the "millions and millions" who don't watch what they eat, why do you care? Is it any of your business? So I guess you're arguing that because these people don't eat right, they have to have government do it for them? Why don't you worry about yourself? What's the next thing the activists will target? I read about some Columbia professor who is attempting to do exactly the same thing, only this time it's coffee. He put out some silly study that he manufactured that contains all the usual buzzwords and phrases designed to gin up angst about caffeine, including "caffeine industry", "coffee companies", "relentless marketing", the "public health consequences" of caffeine consumption, and how there ought to be limits on this and that. "Exaggerated worries"? It's interesting that you used that wording. Sounds to me like you're agreeing the worries are legitimate, just blown out of proportion. The reason they don't like being called food police is because that's what they are, and banning ice cream (and so much more) is what they're really about.

Posted by: Patty S | January 18, 2006 10:13 PM

Patty is wrong about some of the coffee stuff, but in fact it's worse than she syas. Theres really a bunch of nuts out there being helped by a Columbia prof., doing exactly what everyones been talking about. You can look it up at Seeing is believing. Made me shake my head when i first saw it. First booze, then cigs, now snack food, then coffee.

Posted by: Javajuice | January 18, 2006 10:46 PM

PattyS ...

You're making my point for me. This issue is about marketing junk food directly to children and the idea that there shuld be less of that. You don't even address that, but leap right to the idea that people somehow want the government making people's food decisions for them.

There seems to be no way to have a discussion about the real topic. My only point is that if someone is making poor food choices because of lack of information, the food industry is not rushing to help. And if you are conscientious, and especially if you're a parent trying to teach your children good eating habits, the food industry is working against you.

It baffles me why anybody would think it's a bad idea to suggest that wave after wave of advertising for unhealthy food being taregted directly to children is maybe not the best thing for them.

As to why I care, it's because too many Americans are overweight, suffering from diabetes, heart disease and other conditions associated with bad diets. That includes myself, members of my family and my friends. And while it certainly is a matter of personal responsibility -- I've not argued otherwise -- it is also true that food patterns are often set very early in life, and can be hard to overcome later.

Why it make it harder than it already is for people to teach their kids why a Butterfinger should be an occasional treat rather than a daily staple?

This is the entire substance of my argument. I know nothing of any conspiracy to ban ice cream or otherwise regulate by law what people eat, and I wouldn't support any such thing. But I do not see any harm at all in raising awareness of how some companies aggressively market unhealthy food to children.

Posted by: SteveG | January 19, 2006 12:01 AM

Sorry PattyS, SteveG will never get it. Targeting the marketing is only the first step. Not that I'm a smoker, but look what happened with cigarettes. First, they took off all the commercials from TV, then they sued the pants off the companies, then they banned smoking in bars. The people that are this passionate about stopping advertisement about cereals are not going to stop when they've banned commercials from children's shows. They won't stop until they act the way you want them to be. I've read Professor B's BS before and, as I said above, it scares me. Personal responsibility is foreign to them.

Posted by: Getoutofmylife | January 19, 2006 9:52 AM

John Banzhaf ... You can't litigate regulations. If you want nutrition information, controls on the type of advertising (yes, censorship) and restrictions on what our children can see, do some work and pass a darn law. Don't get the courts to scare people into doing what you're too lazy to try to do.

Where does it end? Only tofu burgers can advertise on TV?

Posted by: cleetus8 | January 19, 2006 10:02 AM

I find all this ludicrous... absolutely absurd on every level. I have kids and have no problem saying "No" to every time they say, "I WANT THAT." No. NO. My 5 year old daughter wanted the Amazing Amanda doll and all I could envision was Bride of CHUCKY coming at me with a knife! NO WAY. And I said it, too. OMG! My poor child can't have EVERYTHING she sees on TV. :rolleyes:

My son has braces. He can't have 90% of the stuff he wants. Tough. Personal responsibility is OUR jobs to teach our kids in a world FILLED with ugliness and choices. Get over it already.

And as for McD's, I am so sick and tired of hearing the constant BS regarding how unhealthy they are. :deeeeeeepeyeroll: I'm a 5'9" tall woman in my mid-30s who weighs 135lbs (that's a 19.9 BMI, folks) and I have eaten McD's at least once a week through my ENTIRE life.

In fact, I eat McD's breakfast 3-4 times a week, cuz I commute and don't have time to make breakfast. And usually at least once a week a dinner meal with my kids. Never caused a single person in my family to be obese or even mildly over weight.

In case some of you are too ignorant to see the bigger picture, obesity in children is more a DIRECT result of things like "helmet" laws and video games than anything else. Put your kid on a bike, toss him out the door, throw the helmet in the trash and have him EXPLORE. Sell the stupid video games on eBay and reinvent your lifestyle, rather than conglomerating in mass ignoramus hysteria and sueing companies for doing what they have to do to get their product KNOWN ~ advertising.

What a bunch of BULL. *spits in disgust and walks away*

Posted by: ResponsibleMOM | January 19, 2006 10:07 AM

Just adding one last thing. What are you people raising? Perpetual children who are incapable of ignoring advertising bombardment or future adults? I've got ADULTS IN TRAINING.

MARKETING is part and par with our lifestyle. They HAVE to get use to it. I'd much rather hear a five year old repeat after every commercial "I want that" and be told NO NO NO NO 9 million times and eventually get it OUT of their system, then watch some 20 year old who's been protected and sheltered all his life SUCCOMB to the marketing bombardments. At 5, you can say NO. At 20, THEY need to know how.

And if you're popping your kid down in front of a TV and ignoring what's going on and NOT telling them the difference between what is good and what is bad, the problem isn't the ADVERTISING... its YOU.

Posted by: ResponsibleMOM | January 19, 2006 10:14 AM

As I said, there's no way to have a discussion about the actual topic, which is marketing and advertising. People leap about 100 steps past that to some imaginary future where the "food police" make all our choices for us.

Which has not one thing to do with the real issue of advertising.

The government spends a few hundred million dollars a year on educational programs promoting good nutrition and health habits to children. There are hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars spent each year on advertising fast food, candy, soda, chips and other such things.

If you're a conscientious parent, why do you want to be at that kind of a disadvantage in teaching your children how to make smart choices? And if you're not a conscientious parent, the food companies are quite happy to turn your children into regular customers, no matter the cost to their health.

All the hysterical fearmongering about "government control of food choices" is ridiculous, since nobody is proposing any such thing. If that issue comes up in the future, it will be a separate issue from this one and I'll be against it.

On THIS one, though, I'm for it. You all are arguing that it's a matter of personal responsibility, and at the same time you're arguing against a measure that would increase the ability of parents to pass on correct and useful information and decrease the ability of Kellogg's to get your kid eating 200 calories of sugar to start the day.

You can't have personal responsibility, in any real way, unless the people making the choices are given accurate and useful information. Why not make it easier for the parents who want to do that for their children?

Sorry, but I am not the one who doesn't get it.

Posted by: SteveG | January 19, 2006 11:01 AM

It seems as though people here are talking past each other. SteveG is right that the "anti's" who have posted aren't addressing the issue at hand, which is aggressive junk food advertising to children, and how it fits into the overall problem of obesity. And yes, there is a problem. You don't have to look hard to find it. Like JC, I really don't like using the word "epidemic" because it it has become a media catchword. Many adults, in addition to eating poorly themselves, are also neglecting their responsibilities to their children by not setting reasonable dietary and physical activity guidelines. There are other reasons that obesity is more prevalent today, but aggressive junk food advertising is unquestionably one of them, as I found out by watching Saturday morning cartoons with my son recently. There were so many junk food ads that I lost count. It was like the ads for pickup trucks during football games on TV. I believe a balance can be struck between the right to market legal products, and giving parents more of a foothold in this media-saturated society. The makers of hard alcohol and the government seemed to do so pretty successfully.

But SteveG, can you honestly sit there and say that what these groups are advocating is just about advertising and information? Encouraging people to eat a healthy diet is laudable, along with efforts to give people the information to do so. But you're discounting the zeal that these activists possess. They believe that junk food is no better than cigarettes or alcohol, and should be treated as such by government. Some of them also believe that if encouragement and information is not enough to change people's habits, then habits should be changed by limiting the availability of "bad" foods, period. You say these fears are overblown, but I am not so sure. The "fat tax" is certainly an idea pointed in that direction.

Look, I'm no James Madison, but I think that for a person to be free, many aspects of his/her life must remain their private business, beyond the scrutiny of government. I think what we eat is one of them. That's why we grill Supreme Court nominees on the right to privacy. We are living in a time when, in the name of public health, there are more and more calls for people to cede more and more of their privacy to the gaze of government and the public.

"The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding." —Louis D. Brandeis

Posted by: BarBQLvr | January 19, 2006 11:25 AM


I'm actually not saying anything one way or the other on what else these groups might want to do. What I am saying is that if they do argue for actual regulations on people's choices, I'd stand against that, but that isn't the issue at hand here.

I don't take an all-or-nothing approach. An advocacy group can easily be right on some issues and wrong on others. On this one, they're right. When or if they advocate mandates on personal decisions, they're wrong.

Remember when the CSPI came out with their report on how unhealthy movie theater popcorn is? They were widely laughed at for that, but the end result was that people were now armed with a great deal more information than they had before. Yes, I am sure that nobody seriously thought it was healthy, but they might not have known just how unhealthy it was.

My attitude is, if you are aware that a bucket of movie theater popcorn with the butter-flavored chemical grease has 2,500 calories and 35 grams of transfat (for example) and you choose to eat it anyway because you enjoy it, that's fine and that's your business. But if you choose to eat it because you DON'T know that, and you're assuming you're getting maybe 1,000 calories and 10 or 15 grams of fat, then the people who make and sell the popcorn are abdicating their own responsibility to be candid about what they're selling.

There is one thing I really don't get, and that is the howls of protest against providing information from the ones demanding that it's about "personal responsibility." How can you really take personal responsibility if you don't have the information needed to make an informed decision?

Posted by: SteveG | January 19, 2006 11:36 AM

Don't have the information? What, are your eyes so bad you can't see the labels on the box or are y'all to lazy to LOOK when you're shopping? Can't flip over a piece of paper on a McD's tray??

My kids are peanut allergic. As a result, I long ago learned that SOME regulation is good (hey, it's sure nice to see an ingredient list). BUT, these products HAVE THEM ALREADY.

You want the ads to go away? NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. Or have marked disclaimers with all their ingredients listed on a 30 second spot? OMG.. that's absurd!

Read the ingredients. It's not that hard. The way they're set up now, it would even be rather simple for the Mayor of Simpleton to figure out. :rolleyes:

Box of Chez-It's... LABELED. All the ingredients (or lack thereof) are listed on the side. Amount of salt, carbs, vitamins, etc. It's YOUR job to look at that, not the governments job to pull advertising because it doesn't DISCLAIM everything in the universe. DO NOT WEAR CHEZITS IN YOUR UNDERWEAR, AS THEY MAY STAIN YOUR @$#*.

Do not use heat gun as a hair drier. DUH. How LOW of a denominator does the entire MASS of humanity have to stoop to?

READ THE BOX before buying it for your kids.

Posted by: ResponsibleMOM | January 19, 2006 12:07 PM

Don't have the information? What, are your eyes so bad you can't see the labels on the box or are y'all to lazy to LOOK when you're shopping? Can't flip over a piece of paper on a McD's tray??

My kids are peanut allergic. As a result, I long ago learned that SOME regulation is good (hey, it's sure nice to see an ingredient list). BUT, these products HAVE THEM ALREADY.

You want the ads to go away? NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. I'd like peanuts to be banned. AFTER ALL, they kill hundreds of unsuspecting children every year!!! But, its not YOUR job to ban all peanut advertising because my kids are potentially fatally allergic. It's MY job to remind my kids not to eat that crap, cuz it could kill them.

I certainly think DEATH is a much bigger concern than FAT kids. :rolleyes: Yet, this ADVERTISING issue is such a HUGE concern because y'all have some fat LAZY kids who won't ride their bikes because they get sweat helmet head and its embarassing enough to be a pimply faced pre-teen than to endure THAT...

Or have marked disclaimers with all their ingredients listed on a 30 second spot? OMG.. that's absurd!

Read the ingredients. It's not that hard. The way they're set up now, it would even be rather simple for the Mayor of Simpleton to figure out. :rolleyes:

Box of Chez-It's... LABELED. All the ingredients (or lack thereof) are listed on the side. Amount of salt, carbs, vitamins, etc. It's YOUR job to look at that, not the governments job to pull advertising because it doesn't DISCLAIM everything in the universe. DO NOT WEAR CHEZITS IN YOUR UNDERWEAR, AS THEY MAY STAIN YOUR @$#*.

Do not use heat gun as a hair drier. DUH. How LOW of a denominator does the entire MASS of humanity have to stoop to?

READ THE BOX before buying it for your kids.

Posted by: ResponsibleMOM | January 19, 2006 12:11 PM

Have you checked your caps lock key? It seems to be malfunctioning.

Where ingredients labels are available, sure. I read them all the time. Nutritional information is very often not available in fast food places (even though I think it is supposed to be.) It certainly is not printed on the wrapper, as you suggest. Movie theater popcorn doesn't have nutritional data on the tub, either.

That's all I'm saying, (1) people should be able to get accurate information about the food they eat and also good education on why certain things are important to know, and (2) parents should be able to teach their children good nutritional principles without being undermined by the industry's marketing strategy.

Does anybody seriously disagree with that?

Posted by: SteveG | January 19, 2006 12:22 PM

SteveG...we'd agree with you if you were right. Advertising to kids works because too many parents are just too lazy to do what ResponsibleMOM does. If we had more ResponsibleMoms, Madison Avenue would have to find other targets for their ads.

With regards to point (1) above, the information is already available. Read ResponsibleMom's post. I'm hesitant to address point (2), only because it appears that the notion of personal responsibility is foreign to you. However, here goes...You mention that industry is attempting to undermine the parent's teaching of good nutritional principles. I don't see how. I grew up during the era before nutrition labels became the law and with just as many commercials on junk food that exist today. However, I knew what was good for me and what wasn't based on common sense and a great mom. It doesn't take a village to raise a child. It takes a parent or parents.

By the way, it's obvious you don't work for a marketing firm. By attacking ResponsibleMom's method of communicating, you virtually destroyed any value of your message, at least to me.

Posted by: Getoutofmylife | January 19, 2006 2:22 PM

If you want nutritional information at fast food, ask for it. Or order in, its pretty much all over the place inside those establishments. Flip over the tray liner, you might be surprised what you see. I know, I know, not everyone gets bored eating their food and actually READS those things. *deep sigh*

As for a big ole tub of popcorn, are you serious? First off, where do you see a big ole tub of theatre popcorn being advertised to children on TV or radio? ONLY at the theatre. You get some PopSecret at home, wala... ingredients listed. So, its not like you don't know that eating 10x what you would eat at home wouldn't be 10x as bad for you. If I won't let my kids have it at home, I'm not going to let them have it at the theatre, either.

*I*, unlike other people who actually support this nonsense, realize what its like having to live with a child who truly DOES have issues with certain foods. Gotta read everything, their lives depend on it. Can't let them have M&Ms, or ANY candies from a $.25 cent candy machine... EVER. Have to call restaurants ahead of time, make accommodations.. everything may be contaminated with peanuts, from foods to detergents to lotions to who the heck knows what!!

Yet, the vast majority of the population thinks I am nothing short of ridiculous and absurd for wanting to protect my child's LIFE, and I get to read this drivel about how companies are being sued for advertising?? Who's suing Planters? How about SKIPPY? Reese's? No, we PA parents simply ask that the other parents respect our children's life threatening illness and not send peanuts to the classroom and get CHASTISED for that.

But, a whole lot of FAT kids who are really under NO threat of immediate potential DEATH can have their parents SUE legitimate companies who have a right to spend however much they want marketing their products, while MY tax money goes to support such innane, pathetic and ridiculous endeavors, when these very same fat kids and their fat parents are making life for kids with PA a living hell?

Thanks. This is truly, grossly hypocritical and absurd! MARKETING is not going to go away. Get use to it. But don't waste MY money (being a taxpayer) on a stupid lawsuit when there really are more important issues... like... oh... being there for your kids? :rolleyes:

Posted by: ResponsibleMOM | January 19, 2006 3:32 PM

" If we had more ResponsibleMoms, Madison Avenue would have to find other targets for their ads."

Absolutely true.

But we don't. And the children who get persuaded by advertising and don't get it countered by good information are the ones who suffer for it.

Posted by: SteveG | January 19, 2006 3:48 PM

Incidentally, ResponsibleMOM, the lawsuit in question is filed by two privately (donor)-supported advocacy groups against two corporations. Your tax dollars have nothing to do with it.

Posted by: SteveG | January 19, 2006 3:56 PM


No, I'm not a marketer. While you're chastising me for criticizing ResponsibleMOM's "method of communicating" (all-caps on Internet message boards is considered the equivalent of shouting), you're not noticing that her messages are punctuated with sarcastic "rolleyes" notes and the aforementioned random shouting.

As long as you're doling out the critique, how about urging that people disagree respectfully without "shouting" and rolling their eyes at people they are arguing against?

I understand she's taking it personally because of the allergy situation, which is certainly a serious, life-threatening concern. But childhood obesity, while it may not be as immediately urgent as an allergic reaction, is hardly a benign annoyance. Kids are being set up for diabetes, heart disease and cancer at an early age, and that is not a trivial thing.

Posted by: SteveG | January 19, 2006 4:01 PM

SteveG...I didn't take RM's comments as attacks against you, but I guess they could be taken that way, so I'll give you a pass.
Your comments about childhood obesity do bring up a very vivid childhood memory though. I don't know how old you are, but there was a time without the Internet or nutrition labels. My next door neighbor's son was considerably overweight at 14 years old. His diet consisted of lots of Twinkies and other similar foods. My refrigerator was stocked full of fruits and vegetables. My mother, who never took a college course in her entire life, didn't need someone like The Center for Science in the Public Interest, the court system, or an overreaching government to help her make those decisions. She knew an apple was more nutritious than a Twinkie. So did my neighbor, but she didn't want to work hard enough to help her son make the right decisions. I would venture to say that this scenario plays out in thousands of similar situations across the country. Decisions are tough, SteveG. They always have been. There will always be outside influences to help us make the wrong ones. I guess I long for the day when folks beside my mom didn't want to make my decisions for me.

Posted by: Getoutofmylife | January 19, 2006 5:17 PM

I don't disagree with any of that. When people know better and make poor choices anyway, that's their own fault.

None of what I've said contradicts that, though. People are reacting as if I'm calling for the government to come search our pantries and confiscate the Ho-Hos, and I've not said anything of the sort.

People should eat whatever they choose to eat. But they should make those choices having a solid understanding of why, for example, fiber is good for you and trans fat is not. And I do not think everyone does. And I do not think many food companies are interested in doing much to change that situation.

Posted by: SteveG | January 19, 2006 6:01 PM

A top priority for food manufacturers is to make money. The fact that commercials for junk food during children's programming are so prevalent indicates to me that this advertising works to do just that. And that's good for the company but not for our kids and society at large. Obesity has become a serious issue and even though there has been much education about it, it's still on the rise. Sometimes informing folks just isn't enough. When junk food is easy, cheap, and appeases your kid, it's no wonder that even well educated parents (and kids) still buy it. And with our heavy subsidy of corn, we are just assuring that there will be more and more junk food products (made with cheap corn components) that are cheap to produce and much more marketable than a carrot. So that's why regulations can be a good thing. We have tons and tons of regulations and many of them have actually contributed to a better way of life for all of us. Regulations like this can make it a little easier to make good choices. Kids may not nag as much. Who knows? So I ask this, why argue for the continuance of something that's certainly not helping kids be healthy? If you have a better idea (beyond that parents just need to be tougher, because that hasn't happened yet), this is a good opportunity to start pitching the idea.

Posted by: Allison | January 19, 2006 6:03 PM

By the way, that fat kid you describe? That was me at that age. My parents, though they loved us kids, didn't really see the harm in giving us few boundaries on what we ate, or how much or often. Consequently, we've struggled with weight problems our whole lives. I have it under control now, but it took several years of learning things I'd never been taught, and overcoming habits that had been decades in the making. It would have been much easier for me if I'd been allowed one cookie after dinner instead of half a bag of them in the afternoon.

That's the fault of my parents, and then my responsibility to overcome, and I have. But there was very little public discussion of nutrition and diet when I was a teenager, at least where I came from (in the 1970s) and so I think that a lawsuit like the one being filed here, whether it succeeds or not, can be a good thing if it gets people to talking and seriously thinking about the issues it raises.

Posted by: SteveG | January 19, 2006 6:07 PM

That's last week's NYTimes series on diabetes, which exists here at higher levels than the rest of the country. I saw a couple of mentions of diabetes in the comments, but not many. This is an amazing series, although it never mentions that really good non-caloric sugar substitutes like Stevia can literally change your physical well-being very quickly. The sugar industry has definitely been protected.

The fact is, it takes tremendous work to eat healthily. You have to think about it a lot, but the main thing to remember is to try to get back to the healthy things even if the cravings for the non-nutritious things gets the best of you. Aggressive supplementation as described by Kurzweil and Grossman in 'Fantastic Voyage' and at is not cheap, but is very good if you can get the discipline and want to do it. Ultimately it saves money, but it doesn't seem like that at first.

Much of the frustration around proper and/or improper diets is caused because of social pressures. For example, in the NYTimes series article about East Harlem, eating salad is considered wimpy and diabetics who test their blood levels every day still put large amounts of white sugar on their frosted flakes. It's true what someone said about habits developed early being difficult to break, and it's impossible unless the benefits are fairly easy to recognize quickly.

Posted by: Patrick J. | January 19, 2006 7:59 PM

What you're all not understanding is that the world isn't like it was a generation ago. Advertisers today take courses and hold seminars on how to manipulate children, and how to teach children to manipulate their parents. The ads are not just on TV, they're on billboards and websites and in the schools. The message is always that eating junk food is fun and cool. You can preach all you like about "personal responsibility," but unless you get your heads out of the sand about the reality of advertising, you're expecting parents to overcome the onslaught with a peashooter.

Posted by: Arlo | January 20, 2006 6:19 AM

Be a parent and tell your kid no once in a while. It's not that hard. If they don't like it, swat them on the tailside to reinforce it occasionally.

A generation ago our parents weren't afraid they'd be sued for enforcing discipline on their children.

Posted by: Crazy Politico | January 21, 2006 4:22 PM

Arlo is right. Well, sort of. The world isn't like it was a generation or two ago. We have too many permissive parents who are too lazy to actually make tough parenting decision. Much easier to buy junk food for their kids than to listen to them whine about having to eat an apple.

Posted by: Getoutofmylife | January 23, 2006 8:52 AM

Getoutofmylife obviously lives in a very different world from the real one, one where everything is tinged with pink and birds are always singing.

OK. Read Greg Critser's "Fat Land" or any of a dozen other good books on the topic if you want to understand what is really going on. Or continue living in this fantasy place where a parent saying no is all that's needed to thwart a multi-billion dollar industry.

That said, I've done all I can here.

Posted by: SteveG | January 23, 2006 11:53 AM

SteveG, don't you know the song? Money can't buy you love? Well, money can't buy you self-respect, either. Good parenting CAN and DOES instill the values of the parents and DOES combat marketing.

I'm sorry, but I grew up with just as much BS marketing going on ~ ciggies included ~ and yet somehow survived without ever getting fat. My mother let us have sodas and candy, but "moderation" was the key teaching she offered. So, effectively, she DID successfully combat a multi-billion dollar industry, even then.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. This whole attitude of placing blame for everything on someone else and thinking you're entitled to compensation because YOU refused to stop eating too much food and refused to self-moderate or educate yourself is absolutely reprehensible and needs to end.

I grew up with the candy man showing up at the poolside and in the neighborhood twice a day (haven't seen a candyman in YEARS) and would buy candy cigarettes and ice cream and exploding candy... everyday.

It is NOT the food that is causing the epidemic of obsesity in children, it is the LACK of exercise and fantatical parents who refuse to let their kids OUT exploring or out riding their bike. In fact, most parents are content to let their latch key kids sit home playing video games and watching imagination sapping cartoons all day long and when their kids get fat, they scream that its the junk food industry?

I honestly don't see how you can justify this entire line of thought. It's pathetic.

Posted by: ResponsibleMOM | January 24, 2006 9:01 AM

MOM, you are arguing against a point I never made. Nobody -- NOBODY -- in this is saying anyone should get compensation. (And spare me your predictions about the future; deal with the present.) The lawsuit is about limiting TV advertising aimed at children. That's all. No payments to anyone.

For about the fifth time, I will say hooray for you for learning responsibility and passing it on to your children. But this "I turned out OK, screw everybody else" attitude of yours is harmful to society overall.

Nobody's actually listening to what I'm saying, so I am probably going to drop out of this conversation after this message. But for the record, I am not saying the food industry is to blame for obesity; I am saying that the barrage of advertising for junk food that most children see every day (and not just on TV) makes it hard on even the most responsible parents to counteract.

(The junk food is also quite a bit junkier than it was a few decades ago, with high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils and other things being used so widely now.)

I think you, Getoutofmylife and others here are completely underestimating the complexity of the issue. And if you think that advertising has no connection to people overindulging in the advertised products, then I think you are just not paying attention.

OK, I'm done.

Posted by: SteveG | January 24, 2006 11:06 AM

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