While I've been writing about the politics of food for about 12 years now, it's only been in the last few years that I've become more aware of how children are marketed to by Corporate America. The most obvious are toys and food, but that's only part of the picture. Marketers spend 17 billion dollars a year peddling directly to kids, undermining parental authority, targeting children in schools and increasingly online, all of which is resulting in such adverse social consequences as teen smoking and drinking, childhood obesity, and sexualization at younger and younger ages.

A wonderful organization that I work with on this issue is the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC). The director is psychologist Susan Linn, author of two books that I highly recommend, including Consuming Kids: the Hostile Takeover of Childhood.

In June, CCFC sent a letter to the Democratic Platform Committee urging them to adopt a plank to protect children from such marketing excesses. (They have also sent a letter to Republican Platform Committee.) Here is the language CCFC would like to see the platform committee adopt:

No strategy to ensure the well-being of America’s children and to strengthen America’s families can be complete without a plan to protect our children from the excesses of our marketing-driven media culture [alternative language: the excesses of contemporary marketing practices.] Parents today are rightly concerned that, driven by an almost single-minded focus on financial profit, the nation’s media and marketing institutions are teaching young people lessons and values that undermine good parenting and harm children. For all the benefits that the media have brought us, these industries have also contributed to a profound coarsening of our culture with a steady stream of messages that sexualize children, promote unhealthy eating, and glorify violence and materialism. The escalation in marketing targeted directly at children, including babies, has been scientifically linked to some of the most serious public health problems facing our nation: childhood obesity, youth violence, eating disorders, precocious sexuality, the decline in children’s creative play, and family stress.

We want to help parents raise healthy children of good character. In ways consistent with the First Amendment, we will work to foster a healthier media environment for our children. We will work to protect our children from the excesses of marketing. We will protect parents’ rights to raise their children without being overwhelmed by negative media messages and harmful marketing strategies.

You can help CCFC urge the Dems to adopt this language by signing their petition.

As a new blogger on Daily Kos, I'd love to get a conversation going on how corporate marketing impacts our lives, and especially how kids are targeted daily with all the wrong messages. And of course, how we can work the political system to pay more attention to this growing problem.

Since starting to write about this topic for my book on the food industry, I've learned that children under the age of 8 don't even have the cognitive capacity to understand what marketing is. How then, can we allow McDonald's to market Happy Meals to children as young as 3? To  demonstrate the powerful impact of branding on such young children, least year researchers at Stanford found that kids aged 3-5 preferred food with the McDonald's logo. According to one news account of this study:

77 percent of the kids said the same french fries, from McDonald's, were better in a McDonald's bag than in a plain bag;

61 percent of the kids said milk tasted better in a McDonald's cup;

59 percent of the kids said chicken nuggets tasted better in a McDonald's bag;

54 percent of the kids said carrots tasted better in a McDonald's bag;

Kids who preferred "McFood" tended to live in homes with a greater number of television sets and tended to eat at McDonald's more often than kids not influenced by the McDonald's brand name.

Of course, parents have to set limits and be good role models for their kids, no one is saying otherwise. But having better government regulations would help support parents in dealing with an extremely challenging media environment. Please sign CCFC's petition to make this a priority for the next Democratic administration. Also, please let me know if this is a topic you'd like to read more about here, and if you have any specific suggestions.

Originally posted to Michele Simon on Sun Jul 27, 2008 at 08:28 PM PDT.

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