Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The snack that isn't smiling back

I don't always eat goldfish, but when I do, I prefer to eat it by the handful. I still owe my friend for the full bag of her goldfish I ate the other day. (I'll make it up, I swear!) If the federal government has its way, fewer kids may experience the sensation known as goldfish. According to this New York Times article, the Federal Trade Commission is looking into ways to limit what food is allowed to be advertised to children. Restaurants and food producers are looking to impose the limitations themselves, which is dangerous for the obvious reasons. Margo Wootan, nutrition director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, mentions some of them, calling this a "preemptive move" which will allow the industry to avoid making real cutbacks. More than that, it creates a prisoner's dilemma. If all of the food companies continue to produce bad food as they are doing or if they all regulate and create healthy food, then they will all suffer similar fates. But if some groups honestly regulate themselves and others bill themselves as healthy foods while their foods have a sugar, salt, or fat content that suggests otherwise, these dishonest foods will prey upon less diligent shoppers who are willing to accept companies' claims of health foods.
I, for one, am all for regulations on advertisements to children. The obesity epidemic is reaching truly scary levels, and so is the childhood obesity epidemic. It is clear that peer pressure isn't going to change this. While I myself have not compiled the data to support this, my general observations are that certain locations have many overweight people, while others are filled overwhelmingly with thinner ones. While I'm not accusing anyone of self-segregation, it seems that different neighbors/villages/regions (etc.) have differing levels of success with weight management. In other words, the fact that I know many health-conscious people doesn't make obesity any less real. This means that overweight people often may not have access to the right social support networks that they need to lose weight and that they may not be fully informed about what kinds of ingredients they should seek in the foods they eat.
And this is where advertising comes in. I'm a big believer in freedom for adults to do whatever stupid things they want without the interference of the law, but children are another story. Since legal regulations regarding other unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking are already an accepted part of the law, I don't see why food regulations should be any different, especially since these regulations aren't even on what the kids can eat, only on what can be advertised to them.
I encourage the government to adopt standards that are rigorous but not so much so that they will be ignored by people who may not have the money or time to analyze snacks thoroughly. If nothing approved is tasty, then kids will simply turn back to the bad foods. Don't make eating healthy a struggle or kids will look for an unhealthy outlet.

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