Healthy Foods and The Marketing Business

Got sucked into the ANA blog recently after reading a piece on Steve Rubel's blog. In it, I came across this piece about Bob Liodice's thoughts on marketing to kids. As Robert Moskowitz rightly pointed out in comments, free speech doesn't extend to corporations in quite the same way that it extends to private citizens. Commercial speech has always been more highly regulated than private speech. That's nothing new. And I don't think that corporations should have the unrestricted right to market their products to kids, as kids can't make intelligent decisions on their own with regard to nutrition and diet. They need their parents to help with that.

As many of you know, I've been on a diet for the past several months - one that places a good deal of importance on regulating intake of sugars and other carbohydrates. The nutrition controversy certainly isn't limited to the question of how we market to kids. After all, there are a lot of adults that have trouble making appropriate choices with regard to what they put into their bodies. After several months of being on my diet, I've come to the conclusion that there are a lot of people out there who aren't fully aware of the effects that sugar and bad carbs have on both kids and adults. The first two weeks of my diet were spent essentially weaning myself off of sugar and getting my body adjusted to more reasonable and consistent blood sugar levels, rather than the peaks and valleys I had become accustomed to. Once you learn to avoid foods that are high in sugar and bad carbs, you realize fully the effect that sugar has on energy levels, food cravings, ability to concentrate, weight and general health.

I was reminded of that a couple weekends ago when I went to a kid's birthday party and was offered a slice of birthday cake. (I couldn't well refuse it.) About 10 minutes after finishing the cake, my head started to pound. I had to go outside and get some fresh air. I was all keyed up and I could actually SEE my pulse as my blood sugar went up and the blood coursed through the veins in my eyes. I could feel it in my temples as well. The overload of sugar left me feeling sick and agitated. Now think of how a regular intake of sugary foods affects a young child, if it can do what I just described to a 32-year-old man.

Another of the things I've experienced while on my diet is a lack of places at which to find foods low in sugar and bad carbs. I've had to shop at health food stores rather than the supermarket. When I need to get something on the run, I'm faced with entire delis, food stores and convenience stores filled with stuff I can't eat. I can usually find small servings of vegetables, cheese snacks, sugar free Jell-O or something to get me by until I get to where I'm going, but most of the foods I find on the shelves are things that are going to kick up my blood sugar in unhealthy ways.

My point is that we're already surrounded with unhealthy foods. Many of my friends who are parents of young children unconsciously give their kids sugar all day long without so much as a thought. If the kid is thirsty, give him a sippy cup full of fruit juice. If he's hungry, give him a bunch of fruit snacks, cookies, sugary cereal or other easy-to-eat finger foods. And then they wonder why their kid is bouncing off the walls all day or doesn't want to go to bed before 10 PM.

In an environment where unhealthy choices surround us, and where parents often don't have the information they need to make healthy choices for their kids, ought we to let food marketers ply their trade unrestricted to kids? I would say no. It's not a free speech issue, it's a commercial speech issue. And regulatory bodies of the U.S. Government need to have their say in how food products are marketed to kids, with the public health as their overriding concern.

Politically, I'm usually for the option that provides the least amount of government intervention. However, the food industry has evolved to the point where the most profitable foods tend to be the ones that are the most detrimental to public health. I wouldn't support a total ban on marketing to kids, nor would I support limitations on people's choices of food items. But I would support regulation of marketing foods to kids and investments into nutritional education for all of our citizens.