So, what can we do about all this?
As I finished the book, Food Marketing to Children and Youth, the recommendations section largely dealt with the need for government regulations and national social marketing campaigns to help educate our children on nutrition and physical activity.
This is great, but I don't think we can wait for private industry to stop wanting to make more money from selling crap to all of us. I don’t think we can even afford to wait on the government to tell private industry not to make so much money off selling crap to our kids and us. Definitely not under the current administration.
So, since hell is not going to freeze over anytime soon, we have to worry about our kids in the meantime. These are my recommendations after spending a solid month plowing through all this research. Call it my Manifesto. Take it with a grain or two, or a shaker, of salt. Apply liberally, or create your own recipe for change.
1. Turn off the TV.
When I read statistics like an average of four hours of television per day for each child, it makes me cringe. I don’t think about the 15,000 to 20,000 junk food ads this child sees per year. I think about the value of that time lost for good. The loss of life to an empty void. Think about it. When you turn off the TV at the end of the evening, what lasting value have you gained in your life? Exactly. None.
Four hours is half a workday. Four hours can explore whole new worlds, read several books, go to a museum, walk in the woods, play a game or two of baseball. Four hours every day. One third of a child’s waking hours. It’s like losing a third of their lives, for nothing. It’s not worth it. For them or you.
2. Eat a Family Dinner. Often.
With the TV OFF. Families who eat dinner together, at home, eat healthier meals and have healthier relationships. Kids who eat dinner with their families tend to make better grades and avoid drug and alcohol use. Do you need any more reasons than that?
3. Teach Your Kids Not to Listen to Strangers.
One of the most insidious facts about marketing to kids is that so much of it is targeted to children too young to understand the difference between a commercial and the regular program. They simply absorb this message along with everything else. Parents need to teach their children to identify marketing messages and why these messages are often not serving a child’s best interest. We have to arm our children with defenses against marketing just as we have to teach them to look both ways before crossing the street, and not to talk to strangers.
4. Voice Your Dissent. Loudly and Often.
Tell your school to get marketers out of your child’s classroom. Tell them to get junk foods out of the lunchroom. Tell other parents your concerns. Tell your family, tell your friends. Blog it. Email it. Comment it. Post it. Tell the marketers you don't agree with what they are doing and you will not buy their products.
Advertisers are listening to your blogs, to what we say online in our communities. If you think they cannot hear you, then comment often and loudly on their sites. Disney is starting a new parenting community site. Go tell Disney how you feel about their marketing.
Say thanks to marketers who have voluntarily reduced marketing to kids, but in the same message, tell them you will be watching to make sure they keep their promise. Keep watching. Tell their competitors you won’t buy their products until they reduce their marketing to kids. Use this whole Internet thing to do your own anti-food-marketing marketing. Tell your state and national representatives your concerns. Don’t hold your breath, but tell them.
5. Educate yourself and your kids on nutrition.
Learn how to prepare healthy meals. You can do it on a busy schedule. It can be quick, good and good for you. When you eat right, you set an example for your kids. You’ll feel better. They will eat better. You will all benefit. Plant a garden. Visit a local farm. Go to the Farmers Market or the U-Pick Berry Farm. Teach your kids to cook. Make healthy, fresh food a family experience. Teach them how to make good food decisions.
Remember, some people have fewer choices. They work two jobs to survive. They struggle. There are limited options near their homes. Ask yourself, are you really that busy in comparison? Change your life and make healthy choices a priority. Demand better choices for everyone else, too.
6. Choose the Form of the Destructor.
We can’t escape marketing and character licensing. There are going to be movies and books, toys and games, and some TV in our lives. Choose wisely. Choose those who are giving your kids the right messages and not selling crap on the side. We have to filter all this noise and find the few decent things in the mess.
7. Say No.
Even when it wears you out. Stay the course. If the trip to the grocery store is too much pain, divide and conquer. Let your spouse take the kids, you take the cereal aisle.
8. Stay Out of the Drive-Thru Lane
There are meals you can prepare in less time than it takes you to order a Biggie with Fries. You can make a sandwich on wholegrain bread, slice some fruit and heat a few frozen veggies in five minutes flat. Need some incentive? Read Fast Food Nation or Omnivore’s Dilemma. You’ll be happy to go cold turkey — on wheat with canola mayo.
9. Know What Your Kids are Watching and Doing Online
It’s not just the perverts in MySpace to look out for. Talk to your kids about all the messages they are seeing on the TV screen and the computer screen. Make sure they understand what a healthy body image is and that who you are has nothing to do with what soda you drink.
10. Go Play.
Kids learn an active lifestyle from active parents. C’mon, you WANT to go down the slide, too, don’t you? You want to play catch, run and kick a ball or two. Who doesn’t? From the time a child is born, he focuses a ton of energy on learning to roll over, crawl, stand and walk. Don’t waste that achievement. Go play.
Okay. End of manifesto. Nobody likes a nag.
Your turn. Tell me how you plan on facing down the crush of food marketing and how you will overcome the busy life syndrome to start really living. We can do this together. For our kids. For ourselves.
The final post in this series will be links and resources for more information. I hope you have found this useful and helpful. I wish all of you and your children a healthy life.