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Sunday's edition of The New York Times featured an interesting piece entitled, "If You Pitch It, They Will Eat," detailing how food companies target children with promotions and advertising that affect their behavior. Some would call it smart marketing designed to take advantage of the fact that children between the ages of four and 12 spend about $30 billion on their own wants and needs each year, while their parents spend $600 million to feed their kids.

But others - many of them nutritionists - "call it a blitzkrieg that perverts children's eating habits and sets them on a path to obesity," the NYT reports.

It isn’t just advertising. McDonald's, for example, "besides operating 13,602 restaurants in the United States…has plastered its golden arches on Barbie dolls, video games, book jackets and even theme parks." And other companies are using every possible product tie-in available to make products attractive to children, the NYT reports. "There are SpongeBob SquarePants Popsicles, Oreo Cookie preschool counting books and Keebler's Scooby Doo Cookies. There is even a Play-Doh Lunchables play set."

"The problem of obesity is so staggering, so out of control, that we have to do something," Walter Willett, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, tells the NYT. "The vast majority of what they sell is junk…how often do you see fruits and vegetables marketed?"

The response by food companies until recently has been to say that the real cause of childhood obesity is sedentary lifestyles, not diet. But while this remains very much the party line in the food industry, companies like Kraft and McDonald's are making strides to reduce fat and portion size in the products they sell.

There is a need to set specific standards on what is marketed to children, Professor Willett tells the NYT. "We don't sell children guns, alcohol or drugs, but we do allow them to be exploited by food companies."

You can read the entire piece at:
KC's View:
As we were reading this piece, it occurred to us that it is ironic that while packaged food manufacturers and fast food restaurants spend an enormous amount of time and money marketing to kinds and trying to influence their behavior, we can't remember the last time we saw a major supermarket chain do the same thing in a comprehensive, intelligent manner.

If this ability to influence children's eating habits could be adopted by supermarket chains and then given a spin that sought to get them to make healthier and more informed choices, it could be an enormous step in the right direction.

This would seem to be a case where chains could do well by doing good.