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.

FCC (1) alcohol (5) HPV vaccine (1) healthy eating (1) prison phone calls (1) public health (71) messaging (3) product safety (1) regulation (2) racism (1) gatorade bolt game (1) food marketing (5) front groups (1) Gardasil (1) social justice (2) prevention (1) paper tigers (1) Texas (1) sexual violence (2) public health policy (2) adverse childhood experiences (3) built environment (2) Oglala Sioux (3) Oakland Unified School District (1) ssb (1) online marketing (1) Happy Meals (1) SSBs (1) diabetes (1) food access (1) community health (1) election 2016 (1) sanitation (1) American Beverage Association (1) social change (1) Donald Trump (2) measure N (2) tobacco (5) gun violence (1) gender (1) health equity (10) Amanda Fallin (1) institutional accountability (1) violence prevention (8) reproductive justice (1) news (2) advocacy (3) food swamps (1) beauty products (1) Nickelodeon (1) privilege (1) summer camps (1) McDonald's (1) Black Lives Matter (1) child sexual abuse (5) soda warning labels (1) Measure O (1) structural racism (1) nanny state (2) suicide barrier (2) news monitoring (1) Proposition 47 (1) nonprofit communications (1) emergency contraception (1) autism (1) democracy (1) community violence (1) collaboration (1) world water day (1) media bites (1) childhood obestiy conference (1) water (1) gun control (2) safety (1) Chile (1) Catholic church (1) marketing (1) cervical cancer (1) Let's Move (1) community safety (1) Big Soda (2) food industry (4) sugary drinks (10) cancer prevention (1) soda industry (4) childhood trauma (3) diabetes prevention (1) sexual assault (1) physical activity (1) soda (12) health care (1) Aurora (1) Twitter for advocacy (1) El Monte (3) sports drinks (1) Joe Paterno (1) default frame (1) auto safety (1) childhood adversity (1) choice (1) Penn State (3) ACEs (2) Michelle Obama (1) media advocacy (23) authentic voices (1) Johnson & Johnson (1) Big Food (2) Proposition 29 (1) children's health (3) Sandy Hook (2) Sam Kass (1) industry appeals to choice (1) food justice (1) Campaign for Safe Cosmetics (1) Merck (1) food (1) corporate social responsibility (1) Marion Nestle (1) childhood lead poisoning (1) values (1) Tea Party (1) cap the tap (1) Dora the Explorer (1) stigma (1) Rachel Grana (1) paula deen (1) Twitter (1) media analysis (6) genital warts (1) beverage industry (2) cigarette advertising (1) Colorado (1) Coca-Cola (3) equity (3) apha (3) white house (1) Newtown (1) soda taxes (2) communication strategy (1) prison system (1) social math (1) journalism (1) personal responsibility rhetoric (1) obesity (10) naacp (1) community organizing (1) Citizens United (1) elephant triggers (1) personal responsibility (3) inequities (1) liana winett (1) california (1) chronic disease (2) youth (1) Jerry Sandusky (3) SB 402 (1) cannes lions festival (1) communication (2) sugar-sweetened beverages (2) SB-5 (1) food and beverage marketing (3) Connecticut shooting (1) language (6) San Francisco (3) media (7) PepsiCo (1) Big Tobacco (3) campaign finance (1) Richmond (5) sexism (2) news coverage (1) weight of the nation (1) community (1) Bloomberg (3) Community Coalition Against Beverage Taxes (1) food deserts (1) sexual health (1) education (1) target marketing (9) social media (2) seat belt laws (1) news strategy (1) abortion (1) framing (14) SB 1000 (1) junk food (2) Whiteclay (4) obesity prevention (1) water security (1) public health data (1) vaccines (1) news analysis (3) political correctness (1) women's health (2) food environment (1) digital marketing (3) Golden Gate Bridge (2) Food Marketing Workgroup (1) cancer research (1) Bill Cosby (1) george lakoff (1) tobacco control (2) suicide prevention (2) new year's resolutions (1) Pine Ridge reservation (1) breastfeeding (3) Wendy Davis (1) Telluride (1) violence (2) childhood obesity (1) soda tax (11) indoor smoking ban (1) tobacco tax (1) junk food marketing to kids (2) Berkeley (2) race (1) mental health (2) junk food marketing (4) sandusky (2) snap (1) environmental health (1) government intrusion (1) tobacco industry (2) Pine Ridge Indian Reservation (2) filibuster (1) strategic communication (1) cosmetics (1) suicide nets (1)
  • Follow Us On Facebook
  • Follow Us On Twitter
  • Join Us On Youtube
  • BMSG RSS Feed

get e-alerts in your inbox: