April 22, 2011

Internet Kids' Games as Junk Food Advertising

Myriad processed-food conglomerates including General Mills, Unilever (which also owns Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream), Post Foods, Kraft and Kellogg's, have pledged to stop or significantly limit their marketing of less healthy options to kids. But is seems that few if any of these companies are actually sticking to their word. As this excellent investigative report in the NYT reveals, it seems all (except for perhaps Kraft, which is not mentioned) are finding new ways to market junk food to kids: Free online video games.

I blogged on this issue once before. So instead of repeating myself, you can read that piece here.

This is a perfect example of a nefarious side effect of the nominally "free" internet. And it's hard to come up with a solution to the problem, as my previous blog argues. The causes of child obesity are systemic socioeconomic forces. Essentially, the poorer a child is nowadays in the U.S., the higher his or her chances are of being--and remaining--obese into adulthood. As the NYT article reports via an interview at a charter school on the highway between Los Angeles and Las Vegas that strives to give disadvantaged kids a good education:

"Administrators at the school say students face many challenges to maintaining good diets: busy, low-income families, and lots of marketing. “They’re home alone, with no one to give them direction. They’re very susceptible to this marketing,” said the principal, Chala Salisbury. “What we’re seeing is children who are lethargic, some really heavy, but most on the heavy side. Most of the reason is diet.” 
Even some critics of the food industry say parents have some responsibility to limit access to marketing and to simply say no to pleas for junk food. But they also say that the aggressive pitches wind up pitting parents against children and, at the least, putting them in a position of constantly saying no."

Ultimately, we need to foster a society in which large corporations do not prey on disadvantaged children, whose numbers are unfortunately continuing to grow as fewer and fewer good middle class jobs remain in this country. But achieving this vision means to have the courage to do what is necessary to make this country great once again. And that will require a serious commitment from not just business, but citizens and their elected representatives.

Indeed, citizens must absolutely shop more responsibly, and parents must absolutely parent more responsibly, while legislators and regulators valiantly uphold the peoples' interest over corporate interests. Without that kind of concerted collective effort, there is little hope corporations will generally uphold their end of the great moral responsibility our free-market social contract now cedes to them.

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