Philadelphia Inquirer
December 10, 2005


SpongeBob, Shrek and Barbie, constantly hawking junk food, are
encouraging bad eating habits. Children's health is paying the price.

That's a crude abstract of the most damning government study yet of
food and beverage marketing to children. It was released Tuesday by
the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science.

Over the last 20 years, marketing poor quality foods and beverages to
children has spiked dramatically. Children eagerly consume what they
see advertised. Many products are high in added sugar, fat, salt and
low in essential nutrients. Because childhood food preferences often
last a lifetime, poor diet is contributing to health problems, such as
diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, at increasingly
younger ages.

Only 2 percent of children at a healthy weight eat a nutritious diet,
as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And numerous studies
documented that the obesity rate has doubled in children and tripled
in teens in recent decades.

Marketing isn't solely to blame for these alarming trends -- they rise
from a host of societal changes -- but Madison Avenue isn't helping.

Parents, schools and pediatricians are responsible for ensuring good
childhood nutrition. But daily, they compete with cartoon characters,
contests, celebrities and give-aways linked with sugary, salty, high-
fat snacks -- not just on television, but also on the Internet,
magazines, restaurants, video games, movies and other venues. These
ads often associate products with positive images or fun activities.

The Institute of Medicine rightly calls on the food and beverage
industry to target more healthy products to children. Consumers should
reward conscientious companies and shun the callous. Public shame will
likely be more effective than congressional intervention, also

Some corporations have already taken positive first steps. Kraft has
pulled TV and print advertisements of its popular Oreos and
Lunchables. McDonald's now provides nutritional information on Happy
Meals and has altered milk packaging to increase sales. Nickelodeon's
Dora the Explorer pitches spinach and carrots.

But there's much more to do to shift kids' attention to lower salt,
fat and sugar alternatives.

Children will eat whatever Jedi knights and Disney princesses tell
them is delicious and popular. It's time the characters offered
healthier advice.

Copyright 2005 Philadelphia Inquirer