Kids like candy. It’s not a new phenomenon.
Nowadays, children have an ever-growing number of tempting choices for their cravings. Most of these products, whether they’re chips, chocolate, fast food or soft drinks, are introduced to kids through television advertising. Costumed or cartoon characters usually serve as the pitchmen. And kids eat it up — literally and figuratively.
This causes great concern among the country’s “health advocates.” Our children are heavier and less active than those of previous generations, they’ve warned us. Although a wide range of circumstances might be responsible for this trend — the elimination of recess from the school day, parents’ reluctance to let their kids walk to school and play outside without supervision, working parents’ inability to prepare healthy, from-scratch meals on a daily basis, to name three — these “advocates” are most upset about TV commercials.
The Kaiser Family Foundation, a health research organization, monitored 13 television networks during the summer of 2005. According to a study released Tuesday, researchers documented seeing 2,613 food and drink ads that they believed were targeting juveniles.
Do TV commercials make kids fat? Of course not. But worrywarts argue that they drive children to make bad choices which, over time, can make them fat.
“The vast majority of the foods that kids see advertised on television today are for products that nutritionists would tell us they need to be eating less of, not more of, if we’re going to get a handle on childhood obesity,” said Vicky Rideout, a spokeswoman for the Kaiser Family Foundation.
The group wants businesses and networks to cut the number of junk food commercials and advertise more food and drinks that are low in calories, fat, sodium and sugar. Already, companies such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo Inc. have agreed that half of their advertising directed toward children will promote “healthier diets and lifestyles.”
If a commercial shows a group of kids working up a sweat playing soccer or riding bicycles, then shows them quenching their thirst with a sugary cola, is that somehow better than having kids drink soda while playing video games?
Unfortunately, people such as Ms. Rideout have great sway with the political class. Elected officials are all too eager to provide regulatory solutions to “problems” that result from free choice. The threat of having Congress or a Washington bureaucracy impose new rules on private industry is enough to scare any business into reaching voluntary agreements with “advocates” who claim to work on behalf of “the children.”
And Ms. Rideout has an ally in Center for Science in the Public Interest. They think the federal government should regulate television ads that could be watched by children.
“The industry is not as serious about self-regulation as they say they are,” said Margo Wootan, the center’s director of nutrition policy.
Already, a new Federal Communications Commission task force is studying how the media affects childhood obesity rates.
“We now have data that conclusively shows kids are seeing an overwhelming number of ads for unhealthy food on all types of TV shows,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
In fact, these “conclusive” numbers are skewed by the growth of cable and satellite television. Twenty-five years ago, this research would have focused on only three networks. Yet kids back then still knew all about Ronald McDonald and the iconic mascots for Cocoa Puffs, Lucky Charms and Fruit Loops cereals. Today, viewers have hundreds of channels to choose from, and up to 20 networks cater exclusively to kids. More kiddie programming equals more kiddie ads.
These networks have to sell ads and sponsorships geared toward their viewership to stay on the air. Are kids going to respond to salad commercials during “SpongeBob SquarePants”? Of course not.
The nation’s nonprofit nannies and their enablers in Congress and state legislatures can’t order parents how to raise their families — not entirely, anyway — so they instead look for expensive, meddlesome ways to interfere with commerce, raising prices and taxes as they go.
It’s up to parents to set limits on how much junk winds up served for breakfast, in lunch boxes and at the dinner table, in addition to the amount of television their kids can watch each week. To accomplish this, the gatekeepers of goodies typically employ a universally understood, one-word directive: “No!”
That same command should be applied to attempts to put the state in charge of commercial speech.