How Big Food is targeting my toddler

printer friendlyprinter friendly

"Dora, mama! Dora!"

I'm walking with my 22-month-old daughter through Target, and I'm not surprised to hear her yell the name of her favorite cartoon character, Dora the Explorer. What does surprise me is that we're not in the toy aisle, or the book aisle, or even the clothing section -- we're in the area of the store set aside for groceries, buying bread and orange juice. My sweet daughter, who watches the popular Nick Jr. show every day and cherishes her Dora the Explorer shoes, toys, and books, stares, fascinated, at a wall of boxes printed with the famous character's round, wide-eyed face.

"DORA, MAMA! DORA!" she yells, reaching out and grabbing a box, which, I notice, is full of fruit-flavored gummy candies. "No no, baby," I murmur, trying to pull the box away, but she won't be dissuaded -- she's found Dora, and she won't let go.

My daughter doesn't really like candy. She loves string cheese, mashed potatoes and, somewhat surprisingly, seaweed salad from our favorite Japanese restaurant. She has no idea what's in the box, but because of what's on it, it's all she wants. People are starting to look at me and my plaintive, fussy daughter. I'm afraid we won't get out of the store without a scene unless I let her have the candies -- candies that I don't particularly want her to eat, since they're full of sugar, dyes and preservatives, and nothing else of value. What do I do? What does anyone do?

As a media researcher, I spend every day documenting and analyzing the food industry's insidious and pervasive marketing to children, so I'm uniquely aware of the facts: Children my daughter's age are inundated with advertising for unhealthy foods and beverages. According to a newly released report by the Federal Trade Commission, the food industry spent $1.79 billion in 2009 alone to reach children, some as young as 2.

Their tactics are sophisticated, ever-evolving, and worse, minimally regulated, despite the efforts of the Interagency Working Group on Foods Marketed to Children -- a collaboration of the FDA, FTC, CDC, and USDA -- to impose reasonable, voluntary guidelines. The food and beverage industry most aggressively targets low-income children from communities of color like the Oakland neighborhood where my daughter and I have lived for the last 2 years -- not surprisingly, the very communities that suffer disproportionately from obesity-related diseases like diabetes and heart disease.

Standing in the aisle at Target with my crying toddler and a soggy box of Dora the Explorer gummies, these facts come into sharp focus, and my work ceases to be just a job. I'm not a reserved media researcher, dispassionately studying the problem, anymore -- now I'm also one of the frazzled, overwhelmed parents whose exhaustion and desire to placate their children the food industry counts on.

I'm even more taken aback because this is my first real-world experience with the tactics the food industry uses to target children. We don't have cable, so my daughter doesn't routinely see advertisements for soda or fast food, or the more subtle promotions and product placements woven into family programming. She doesn't have a smartphone, so marketers can't send her coupons tailored to her location and preferences yet. She isn't exposed to Pepsi and McDonald's sponsorship in the halls or on the playing field because she attends a small family child care. My daughter is mostly shielded for the moment, but for how long? And how many children aren't?

As I pry the box from her grasping hands and duck my eyes to avoid the glares of my fellow shoppers, I'm filled with a new resolve to monitor and point out the industry's slick tactics. And I want to do more to support policymakers and advocates however I can in their fight against Big Food. What can I do right now? For one thing, I can join advocates and parents from around the country in urging Nickelodeon to stop advertising junk food to kids using their beloved characters -- including my daughter's idol, Dora.

My first task, though, is to get out of this Target with dignity intact. I'll wait until later to explain to my sobbing toddler that my most loving act as a parent is working to erase the target Big Food has carefully drawn on her small back.

This blog also appeared on MomsRising and AlterNet.

Merck (1) SSBs (1) Wendy Davis (1) child sexual abuse (5) soda (12) prison system (1) cancer research (1) sexism (2) sanitation (1) Sam Kass (1) food and beverage marketing (3) Sandy Hook (2) community violence (1) junk food marketing to kids (2) food deserts (1) democracy (1) Dora the Explorer (1) news analysis (3) Twitter (1) healthy eating (1) news coverage (1) vaccines (1) Big Food (2) El Monte (3) Citizens United (1) sexual health (1) framing (14) food access (1) Rachel Grana (1) childhood trauma (3) Joe Paterno (1) water (1) political correctness (1) children's health (3) food environment (1) inequities (1) community safety (1) prevention (1) campaign finance (1) industry appeals to choice (1) childhood lead poisoning (1) tobacco tax (1) Connecticut shooting (1) Amanda Fallin (1) california (1) filibuster (1) privilege (1) government intrusion (1) environmental health (1) indoor smoking ban (1) community health (1) Bill Cosby (1) SB 1000 (1) public health policy (2) beauty products (1) regulation (2) Michelle Obama (1) HPV vaccine (1) social justice (1) junk food (2) genital warts (1) product safety (1) ssb (1) gender (1) racism (1) food justice (1) structural racism (1) cigarette advertising (1) Proposition 29 (1) measure N (2) abortion (1) obesity prevention (1) cervical cancer (1) new year's resolutions (1) default frame (1) beverage industry (2) digital marketing (2) Aurora (1) childhood adversity (1) Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (2) media analysis (5) front groups (1) advocacy (3) health care (1) sports drinks (1) social media (2) white house (1) reproductive justice (1) paula deen (1) emergency contraception (1) social math (1) cosmetics (1) Nickelodeon (1) tobacco (5) food industry (4) collaboration (1) race (1) media advocacy (21) Jerry Sandusky (3) Richmond (5) personal responsibility rhetoric (1) Tea Party (1) gun violence (1) food marketing (3) Golden Gate Bridge (2) target marketing (7) junk food marketing (3) community organizing (1) Bloomberg (3) news monitoring (1) Berkeley (2) alcohol (5) media bites (1) McDonald's (1) Black Lives Matter (1) childhood obesity (1) diabetes (1) Whiteclay (4) media (7) Gardasil (1) safety (1) built environment (2) soda tax (11) PepsiCo (1) Texas (1) autism (1) language (6) food (1) ACEs (2) obesity (10) suicide prevention (2) Colorado (1) authentic voices (1) Twitter for advocacy (1) Oglala Sioux (3) sugary drinks (10) soda taxes (2) Big Tobacco (3) Chile (1) San Francisco (3) youth (1) sexual violence (2) health equity (10) Proposition 47 (1) cancer prevention (1) sexual assault (1) Marion Nestle (1) prison phone calls (1) community (1) elephant triggers (1) online marketing (1) liana winett (1) messaging (3) food swamps (1) social change (1) gatorade bolt game (1) world water day (1) breastfeeding (3) auto safety (1) Big Soda (2) physical activity (1) news strategy (1) water security (1) marketing (1) violence (2) Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (1) sugar-sweetened beverages (2) Let's Move (1) george lakoff (1) SB 402 (1) summer camps (1) Penn State (3) communication (2) gun control (2) suicide barrier (2) Coca-Cola (3) suicide nets (1) institutional accountability (1) women's health (2) education (1) SB-5 (1) diabetes prevention (1) choice (1) paper tigers (1) naacp (1) cap the tap (1) seat belt laws (1) tobacco industry (2) chronic disease (2) FCC (1) Telluride (1) personal responsibility (3) news (2) childhood obestiy conference (1) Happy Meals (1) violence prevention (8) stigma (1) Donald Trump (2) journalism (1) public health (67) soda warning labels (1) values (1) snap (1) election 2016 (1) equity (3) weight of the nation (1) Pine Ridge reservation (1) Johnson & Johnson (1) nanny state (2) mental health (2) adverse childhood experiences (3) Food Marketing Workgroup (1) Catholic church (1) apha (2) American Beverage Association (1) Measure O (1) Newtown (1) Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes (1) public health data (1) soda industry (4) Oakland Unified School District (1) tobacco control (2) corporate social responsibility (1) sandusky (2)
  • Follow Us On Facebook
  • Follow Us On Twitter
  • Join Us On Youtube
  • BMSG RSS Feed

get e-alerts in your inbox: