Monday, August 21, 2006

Targeting Our Kids

Dateline NBC aired a segment last Friday on marketing to kids, especially by the food industry:
Today, food marketing aimed directly at children is a $10 billion industry, and two-thirds of Americans polled say it's a major contributor to childhood obesity.

According to the Kaiser Foundation, a typical child sees 40,000 commercials a year. More than half of them are for fast food, candy, soft drinks, and sweetened breakfast cereals.
Scary stuff, and certainly supported by my experiences with my own kids. My 4-year old son has been a big fan of Batman, Spider-man and Superman for a year at least, and he knew about these superheroes despite never having seen any of the related cartoons or movies. I have no doubt that it was the result of commercial marketing on television, and his interaction with other kids who had been similarly (or even more) exposed to the insidious stuff. That exposure does carry over, in his mind, to other settings like the grocery store or retailers we frequent. He wants the cereal that features Superman on the box, he wants the Spider-man cookies, a pillow that looks like Batman, etc.

And the marketing works. Maybe I'm just a big softy (as my own father used to say), but it's hard to say "no" to an excited, persistent, very cute little guy like my son. If it's something I feel is appropriate, I'll buy it (that Batman pillow is sitting up in his room now and we do have a box of Life cereal in the kitchen cupboard that features the image of Superman). But there is a limit to what, and how much, I will buy no matter how insistent my kids are.

Does marketing to kids have a negative impact on children's health, contribute to childhood obesity and such? Yeah, probably... but primarily because parents let it. Parents' fast-paced, too-much-to-do lives leave many to weigh convenience and instant gratification over other, healthier choices. I do it too, sometimes, but it's just not fair to place the blame solely on our consumer-driven society. Personal and parental responsibility need to take precedent. Parents need to educate themselves on these issues to start with. They're our kids, and our responsibility after all, not General Mills' or Kraft Food's!

Hat Tip: Clicked

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