Marketing to Children

Holding Big Food Accountable for False Claims of Responsible Marketing to Children

by Michele Simon and Cara Wilking

Looking back at 2013, while the food movement made progress in certain areas (such as school food and GMO labeling), when it comes to exploitative food marketing to children meaningful change remains elusive. Let’s Move director and White House chef Sam Kass recently acknowledged the obvious when he said this issue was “really tough” given how much money is at stake for industry.

All we seem to hear from the major food corporations about marketing to children are self-serving promises and announcements of future changes. As public health lawyers, that got us wondering, who’s making sure even these minimal commitments are being kept? The question is worth exploring if we want to actually improve children’s diets—not just create positive PR buzz for Big Food. With reports of adults ever-deteriorating eating habits in 2013 coupled with appalling teen heart health, the health stakes are too high to just wait for the food industry to do the right thing.

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Media Coverage for Clowning Around with Charity Report

Clowning_Around_Charity_Report_CoverI am pleased to see so many media outlets take an interest in my recent report, produced in collaboration with Corporate Accountability International and the Small Planet Fund.  Below is a round-up of the coverage so far.

USA Today: McDonald’s slammed over Ronald McDonald House giving. Also published in:

-       Democrat and Chronicle
-       Tucson Citizen
-       THV 11
-       The Indianapolis Star
-       Green Bay Press Gazette
-       Courier-journal.com
-       Livingston Daily
-       Courier Post Online
-       Wausau Daily Herald
-       Wisconsin In a Rapids Tribune
-       Ithaca Journal
-       Lohud.com
-       Press Connects
-       UTNE Alt Wire
-       Daily Tribune
-       Journal News
-       Press & Sun Bulletin
-       The Post-Crescent
-       Fort Myers News-Press

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Clowning Around with Charity: How McDonald’s Exploits Philanthropy and Targets Children

New report from Eat Drink Politics exposes McDonald’s charitable activity as a marketing tool to deflect critics

Clowning_Around_Cartoon_only

Pop quiz: Who do you think funds the hundreds of Ronald McDonald Houses around the nation? McDonald’s right? Sort of, but not really. While McDonald’s gets 100 percent of the brand benefit from Ronald McDonald House Charities, the burger giant only provides about 20 percent of its funding globally. At the local level, it’s closer to ten percent, with some of that money coming from donation boxes at McDonald’s outlets, that is, from customers.

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Junk Food Lobbyists Sued for Money Laundering in Washington State

Effort to Hide Brand-Name Corporations Opposing GE Food Labeling Lands in Court

October 16 update: The Washington State attorney general’s office has filed a lawsuit against the Grocery Manufacturers Association, saying the trade group “illegally collected and spent more than $7 million while shielding the identity of its contributors” to the No on 522 campaign, in violation of state disclose laws. Read the complaint here.

In the final weeks leading up to Election Day, the debate over measure I-522 in Washington State is getting even uglier. As I recently explained, the Grocery Manufacturer Association, the nation’s largest trade group for the processed food industry, has been flexing its muscle to oppose the labeling of genetically-engineered food, both at the federal and state levels. Now, a lawsuit brought by a non-profit called “Moms for Labeling” alleges that GMA crossed the line by not properly disclosing who is behind the whopping $7 million-plus the trade group has donated to the No on 522 campaign so far.

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Super-Sized Lies: Why You Can’t Trust Promises by McDonald’s

Bill Clinton McDonalds

McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson, former President Bill Clinton, and Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Dr. Howell Wechsler.

The headlines certainly sounded impressive: “McDonald’s to Scrap Soda From ‘Happy Meal’ Ads” and “McDonald’s Ditches Soda In Happy Meal Menus.” In a grandiose announcement from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (an offshoot of the Clinton Foundation), McDonald’s proved once again that it’s not only the world’s fast-food leader, but also the king of spin. This time, Bill Clinton himself was on hand for the nifty photo op with McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting. Despite the seal of approval from the (mostly vegan) former president, I’ve learned to approach these sorts promises from McDonald’s with skepticism.

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The Wrong Obama Gives Tough Talk on Junk Food Marketing to Kids

Last week Michelle Obama gathered 100 food industry representatives, academic experts and public health advocates for a “summit” at the White House to discuss junk food marketing to children. The event included public remarks by the first lady followed by a closed-door discussion among attendees, ostensibly to come up with some solutions. The first lady’s speech was better than I had anticipated. As someone who was skeptical about Mrs. Obama’s Let’s Move program from the beginning, with good reason as it turned out, I am happy to report she didn’t pull any punches.

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Ask a Food Lawyer – Legal Tools to Stop Junk Food Marketing to Children

WilkingPhotoInterview with Cara Wilking, senior staff attorney, Public Health Advocacy Institute

For this installment of Ask a Food Lawyer, we profile Cara Wilking, senior staff attorney with the Public Health Advocacy Institute, at Northeastern University School of Law. Her research focuses on the role of state consumer protection laws laws to limit unfair and deceptive food marketing to children. She also provides legal technical assistance to public health officials working to reduce sweetened beverage consumption and to increase access to drinking water. She is an adjunct professor at Northeastern University School of Law where she teaches the Public Health Legal Clinic.

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Is McDonald’s Kid-Themed Business Model Obsolete?

Last month, as USA Today described it, “Taco Bell will shock the fast-food industry on Tuesday by announcing plans to drop kids meals and toys at all of its U.S. restaurants.” CEO Greg Creed told the paper: “The future of Taco Bell is not about kids meals. This is about positioning the brand for Millennials.” Some were skeptical about the announcement, given that kids meals only represent half of one percent of Taco Bell’s overall sales. While increasing pressures on the fast food industry to stop marketing to children wasn’t the main reason for the change, it’s still a significant development.

Read rest at Corporate Accountability International.

How Smart are School Snacks? A Closer Look at New USDA Rules

In April, I submitted comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture on behalf of Center for Food Safety regarding proposed nutrition guidelines for “competitive foods” sold in schools. These are foods sold outside the school program and consist mainly of junk food and soda. Our position was that schools should do away with these foods altogether and focus on improved school meals. While some groups celebrated when the interim final rule was released in June, numerous questions remain. (USDA is calling the rule “Smart Snacks in School.”) I asked registered dietitian Andy Bellatti to take a closer look at the new nutrition guidelines for potential weaknesses. You can submit comments to USDA until October 28; the rule takes effect in the 2014 school year.

Read the interview at Center for Food Safety …

Media Coverage of Report: And Now a Word From Our Sponsors

In January, I released a report called, And Now a Word from Our Sponsors: Are America’s Nutrition Professionals in the Pocket of Big Food? The report continues to receive media attention, in part due to a Change.org petition asking the Academy to clean up its act. Be sure to sign on. Also, please support Dietitians for Professional Integrity, a new group of dedicated registered dietitians working to change the Academy’s sponsorship policies.

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Contact Michele Simon: michele@eatdrinkpolitics.com

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