Stop Trying To Force Feed Our Children!

It’s no surprise that the American Advertising Federation (AAF) rapidly contested findings from a December 2005 Institute of Medicine (IOM) study that found food marketing to be detrimental to our nation’s youth. Exactly how such marketing influences children and youth was the focus of the IOM report entitled Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity?, which was the most comprehensive review to date of the scientific evidence on the influence of food marketing on diets and diet-related health of children and youth.

Among other results, the report found that “current food and beverage marketing practices puts children’s long-term health at risk. If America’s children and youth are to develop eating habits that help them avoid early onset of diet-related chronic diseases, they have to reduce their intake of high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks, fast foods, and sweetened drinks, which make up a high proportion of the products marketed to them.”

Considering the negative light this IOM study casts on the billion-dollar food marketing industry, AAF President & CEO Wally Snyder immediately challenged these findings, stating, “The advertising industry is keenly aware of the dangers of childhood obesity and has been engaged in finding genuine solutions to this problem for some time…food manufacturers are now promoting healthier products and active lifestyles for children.”

So, who should we believe: A respected medical research organization entering into studies with a presumably objective position, or an industry association with a vested interest in results of relevant studies? ( set out to answer this burning question, having recently released results from a survey revealing how moms feel about food marketing to children, the new healthier choice foods offered by fast food restaurants, and childhood obesity in general. Conducted with over 2,000 mothers, the survey found that the majority – a full 67% – of moms say that “although ads have some influence on their children, they ultimately make the buying decisions for the family.”

Primary findings from the survey include:

o 86% of moms feel that teaching good eating habits to their children is one of the top lessons they can teach

o 95% of moms believe there is an obesity epidemic

o 54% of mothers want companies to help them teach their children good eating habits

o 88% do not want companies marketing unhealthy foods to their children

o 58% of moms say they are going to feed their family what they want regardless of marketing messages

o 40% of moms get nutritional information from product packaging and labels

“Marketers need to recognize that although they target children, it’s moms who control the household purse,” says Maria Bailey, Founder of and author of “Marketing to Moms: Getting Your Share of the Trillion Dollar Market” and “Trillion Dollar Moms: Marketing to a New Generation of Mothers.” “It’s time to shift that billions spent on marketing foods to children and focus on the gatekeeper.”

Additional findings from the survey include:

o 88% of mothers want restaurants to offer healthy choices for their family

o 62% of moms admit that they don’t always have time to feed their families healthy foods

o 77% of mothers are more likely to choose a restaurant that offers healthy foods on the menu

o 67% of moms say that adding more fruits and vegetables to their families diet is extremely important

o Moms consider popcorn and nuts to be the healthiest snack foods for their children other than fruits and vegetables

o 81% of moms will spend more for healthy food choices

While this debate, and others, related to childhood obesity will surely ensue, the upside is that we are all TALKING about this uber-important issue. Such awareness and dialogue will surely affect positive change.