A Positive Spin on Food Marketing to Kids

Yesterday, First Lady Michelle Obama announced that Sesame Workshop and the Produce Marketing Association (PMA) have teamed up with Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) in a two-year agreement to help promote fresh fruit and vegetable consumption to kids.

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According to PHA’s website:

The agreement allows PMA’s community of growers, suppliers and retailers to take advantage of the power and influence of the Sesame Street brand without a licensing fee, using characters like Big Bird, Elmo and Abby Cadabby to help convey messages about fresh fruits and vegetables.

Sesame Street characters could be showing up on produce as early as mid-2014.

In her statement, the First Lady cited a recent study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine conducted by researchers at Cornell University. Researchers gave children a choice between eating an apple, a cookie, or both and most kids chose the cookie. Not surprisingly, when the researchers put Elmo stickers on the apples and let the kids select again, the number of kids who chose the apple nearly doubled.

Most often, we see food companies enticing kids with characters on junk food products like sugary cereals and snacks.  Massive marketing budgets allow the food manufacturers to do this, and it works.

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Finally, these same marketing techniques will be used to help parents, instead of undermining them, making it easier to get kids to eat more fruits and veggies.  How great will it be to see beloved children’s characters like Big Bird and Elmo promoting apples and bananas instead of real fruit imposters like Pop-tarts and Popsicles?

Will efforts like this be enough to counteract the billions spent on marketing junk food to children?  Probably not at first, but it is a nice step towards leveling the playing field.  While policies to curb the relentless marketing of unhealthy products have been stymied by Big Food lobbyists, I have to applaud creative ideas like this that can work in congruence with future policy efforts.

Some food policy experts, like Marion Nestle, question the ethicality of marketing to children in any capacity – even if it’s for products we know are good for them.  Studies have shown that children are unable to distinguish marketing from entertainment until at least age 8.  But if marketing such as this poses no harm, and actually serves to benefit children, shouldn’t we be all for it? What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “A Positive Spin on Food Marketing to Kids

  1. I think I agree with Marion Nestle. As great as this news is, it is far simpler to ban marketing to kids under 8 than to try to establish rules and guidelines on what products are good for kids. As we all know, the big food producers have enormous resources to influence that kind of a debate.

  2. I completely agree, Lexie, and thanks for your comments! It would be simpler, and certainly makes the most sense for those younger children who don’t understand that they are being marketed to (even if it is for healthier products). However, since that type of sweeping legislation would be nearly impossible to pass in our current political climate (we can’t even get federal agencies to agree on voluntary nutrition standards for companies to follow), I think parents need all the help they can get. Efforts such as the one mentioned above could help to level the playing field with Big Food, until we reach a point that legislation regulating food marketing to children is more feasible.

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