Why Michelle Obama Went After Junk Food Ads

Kids can form deep attachments to brands, and healthy food offerings aren't enough to combat obesity

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Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Michelle Obama announces School Wellness on February 25, 2014 in Washington, DC.

Updated February 25, 2013, 4:22 p.m.

Children are impressionable, especially when it comes to junk food, so it was a smart move that the White House and the U.S.Department of Agriculture announced on Tuesday a new measure that forbids marketing of unhealthy food on campuses during the school day.

Schools have already been updating their snack offerings, thanks to a 2013 USDA initiative to overhaul lunches. Vending machines now must offer snacks lower in fat, sodium, and calories. Beverage companies have also reduced the number of full-calorie products in schools by 90% between 2004 and the 2009-2010 school year, according to research published in the American Journal of Public Health last year.

But simply shifting the balance of healthy offerings is not enough. A new study out Tuesday from the CDC reports that obesity in the U.S.–while relatively stable–remains high. According to the new data from 2011 to 2012, one-third of American adults and 17% of kids and teens are obese. There was, however, encouraging news about obesity in 2 to 5 year olds, which saw a decline from 14% to 8%. But overall the obesity rates remain fairly unchanged over the last decade.

Research has shown that marketing junk food to kids is insidious and has a real negative effect on children’s health. First Lady Michelle Obama, as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign to fight obesity, aims to crack down on just that. “Our classrooms should be healthy places where kids aren’t bombarded with ads for junk food,” Obama said in a statement. “Because when parents are working hard to teach their kids healthy habits at home, their work shouldn’t be undone by unhealthy messages at school.” The move follows a White House Summit on Food Marketing to Children this past fall, which brought health and industry experts to the table.

(MORE: Forget the Food: Fast Food Ads Aimed at Kids Feature Lots of Giveaways)

The Federal Trade Commission keeps a close eye on food marketing and ads aimed at children, which should not be deceptive or false, and the Children’s Advertising Review Unit of the Beverage Business Bureau provides companies with protocols for marketing to kids. Many companies have volunteered to follow guidelines, but research shows there are still ways around the rules and kids are still seeing too much fast food advertising.

A 2013 study showed that between 2009 and 2010, 99% of fast food ads that aired on children’s TV channels like Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon came from McDonald’s and Burger King. Not only that, but 70% included toy giveaways with references to child-friendly movies. A 2010 study from Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity looked at fast food advertising and reported that kids were still seeing lots of ads for junk food, and that 40% of parents reported that their child asked to go to McDonald’s at least once a week. Even more concerning was that 84% of these parents said they brought their 2-to-11-year-old kids to a fast food restaurant within the prior week.

(MORE: What the New USDA Rules for Healthier School Snacks Mean for Schools)

Children are vulnerable to forming long-lasting emotional connections to brands, especially when items like toys and familiar characters are involved, according to research from the Berkeley Media Studies Group. Since this deep connection made at a young age makes a one more likely to become a lifelong customer, such attachments can also be passed on to these children’s children.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises limited TV for young people, not just because it keeps them sedentary, but because it exposes them to junk food marketing that encourages poor eating habits that can have lasting impacts, like obesity. Thankfully, some companies are willing to make major changes, like Disney, which promised to drop junk food advertising on all its TV channels, websites, and radio programs by 2015. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are also on board with the new “Let’s Go” regulations, the latest in efforts that will hopefully pave the way for a leaner and healthier generation.

“I am thrilled at the progress we’ve made over the last few years in obesity rates among our youngest Americans,” Obama said in a statement. “With the participation of kids, parents, and communities in Let’s Move! these last four years, healthier habits are beginning to become the new norm.”

13 comments
MischaPopoff
MischaPopoff

If First Lady Michelle Obama really wants to fight obesity, why doesn't she start by losing some weight herself? I'm not taking a cheap shot here. No one is going to take advice from the town drunk on sobriety, and kids aren't going to listen to someone telling them to eat more vegetables who's overweight. It's that simple.

GuoLiang
GuoLiang

Simpler reason. She needs to seem like a activist or her left wing base won't respect her. It's how those people actually think.

Openminded1
Openminded1

Because she had nothing else to do. She could not talk about fashion or Barry that is old stuff and boring, so she had to find some kind of agenda, she came up with junk food. wow

rainstormtorrentia
rainstormtorrentia

@MischaPopoff  That quip would work if she was fat, but that weight you see on her is muscle, not fat.  The reason she is not willowy thin and has a bad hip:waist ratio is because she has no figure, and what  she does have is very muscular.

JoseAndrews10
JoseAndrews10

@GuoLiang  my Aunty Piper recently got Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid SUV from only workin parttime on a home pc. go to this

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

@Openminded1  

This is America and you are free to ignore the First Lady.  You still have every right to be a obese couch potato with diabetes and clogged arteries.

I just hope you have insurance.  I don't want to pay for you.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@Hollywooddeed @Openminded1  By the way you are to young to pay for me I have paid my dues in life many times over from vietnam to police work for 30 years. i worked for my retirement at a risk unlike you .

Openminded1
Openminded1

@Hollywooddeed @Openminded1  Hollywood far from obese and couch potato, no diabetes or artery issues. I eat well , exercise daily at 6 feet 4 inches of retired cop and former marine staying in shape is what i do even at 63 years of age. I am to vain not too. As for insurance I have full excellent coverage and it is not Obama care crap.

GuoLiang
GuoLiang

@MiltonSpears  Hate, Greed and Selfishness are the primary drives behind civilization.

Openminded1
Openminded1

@MiltonSpears  I am an independent a do not vote along any party lines like you wimp liberals who will vote for whom ever is on the ballot as long as they where democrats. And your right all I care about is my family i do not have the time or the inclination to be bothered by whats going on in your family, that is your issue not mine. I dedicated my life and career helping my community as a police officer what have you done with your life milton?

MiltonSpears
MiltonSpears

@Openminded1 @Hollywooddeed  Which means you are the typical selfish Republican wingnut who cares about his own health and well-being...and screw everyone else. Translation complete.