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.

obesity prevention (1) Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (2) FCC (1) Tea Party (1) cosmetics (1) food swamps (1) paula deen (1) soda (12) Measure O (1) cigarette advertising (1) Berkeley (2) Coca-Cola (3) diabetes (1) sandusky (2) Chile (1) food (1) food environment (1) snap (1) media (3) world water day (1) violence prevention (6) tobacco tax (1) SB 1000 (1) naacp (1) gender (1) sugar-sweetened beverages (1) summer camps (1) apha (1) Marion Nestle (1) women's health (2) Gardasil (1) marketing (1) george lakoff (1) Sandy Hook (2) Golden Gate Bridge (2) abortion (1) breastfeeding (3) Newtown (1) Aurora (1) obesity (9) cervical cancer (1) media analysis (1) corporate social responsibility (1) Let's Move (1) filibuster (1) health care (1) gun violence (1) industry appeals to choice (1) physical activity (1) junk food marketing (3) Food Marketing Workgroup (1) soda industry (4) messaging (2) values (1) Proposition 29 (1) online marketing (1) nanny state (2) auto safety (1) regulation (2) Amanda Fallin (1) healthy eating (1) Twitter for advocacy (1) sexism (1) Telluride (1) genital warts (1) SB 402 (1) suicide prevention (2) news strategy (1) ssb (1) cancer research (1) suicide nets (1) privilege (1) Merck (1) PepsiCo (1) gatorade bolt game (1) government intrusion (1) Connecticut shooting (1) Sam Kass (1) junk food (1) health equity (9) Rachel Grana (1) autism (1) public health policy (1) liana winett (1) junk food marketing to kids (2) prison phone calls (1) Colorado (1) digital marketing (2) social justice (1) children's health (3) mental health (2) suicide barrier (2) sexual health (1) Happy Meals (1) beverage industry (1) Oakland Unified School District (1) public health (54) tobacco industry (2) product safety (1) Big Soda (2) soda tax (10) Michelle Obama (1) childhood obesity (1) Johnson & Johnson (1) Richmond (5) childhood lead poisoning (1) language (6) choice (1) Big Food (2) environmental health (1) Catholic church (1) sugary drinks (6) california (1) cap the tap (1) Nickelodeon (1) San Francisco (3) prevention (1) food marketing (3) food and beverage marketing (3) Dora the Explorer (1) communication (2) advocacy (3) social media (1) elephant triggers (1) cancer prevention (1) Wendy Davis (1) Whiteclay (4) prison system (1) reproductive justice (1) Oglala Sioux (3) soda warning labels (1) chronic disease (2) water (1) collaboration (1) vaccines (1) inequities (1) weight of the nation (1) tobacco control (2) community health (1) Citizens United (1) framing (9) sanitation (1) media bites (1) indoor smoking ban (1) food deserts (1) built environment (2) tobacco (4) Bloomberg (3) media advocacy (14) Pine Ridge reservation (1) El Monte (3) sports drinks (1) food access (1) Joe Paterno (1) food industry (2) target marketing (5) Texas (1) child sexual abuse (5) equity (3) alcohol (4) campaign finance (1) gun control (2) HPV vaccine (1) measure N (2) seat belt laws (1) SB-5 (1) social change (1) structural racism (1) American Beverage Association (1) personal responsibility (2) SSBs (1) Penn State (3) Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (1) water security (1) food justice (1) front groups (1) stigma (1) new year's resolutions (1) Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes (1) beauty products (1) Big Tobacco (3) institutional accountability (1) McDonald's (1) white house (1) Jerry Sandusky (3)
  • Follow Us On Facebook
  • Follow Us On Twitter
  • Join Us On Youtube
  • BMSG RSS Feed

get e-alerts in your inbox: