- The Lawsuit
On January 18, 2006 a lawsuit was filed against both Viacomm and Kelloggs by The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), parent Sherri Carlson and parent Andrew Leong in a Massachusetts court. The claimed injury due to the advertising campaigns of Kelloggs on Viacom channel Nickelodeon:
This was based on a study performed by the CSPI of Saturday morning television advertisements and the fact that it is aimed at children for foods deemed as poor in nutrition:
The lawsuit argues that Kelloggs and Viacom are liable because the advertisements led the children watching them to prefer the food advertised over other foods. In other words, they were liable because the advertisements reportedly worked:
Apparently, Kelloggs and Viacom are also liable because the children “…pester their parents…”. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like poor parenting on their part by using television as a babysitter.
- The Letter
Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA) sent a letter to the FCC on April 16, 2007 regarding his concerns of the role media is playing in the increasing childhood obesity epidemic. Representative Markey is the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on on Telecommunications and the Internet. Ironically, or perhaps not so much, he is a representative from the state of Massachusetts where the lawsuit from January of 2006 was filed.
The letter cited a study done by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation that provided the following statistics regarding food advertising aimed at children:
This study led Representative Markey to find a connection between food advertising and the growing childhood obesity epidemic as reported by the National Center for Health Statistics:
However, the Center for Disease and Control ALSO looked at the same reports and came to conclusions of their own…
- The CDC Report
The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) based in Atlanta has said that based on two National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys conducted in 1976-1980 and 2003-2004 showed that the percentage of overweight children were increasing as shown here:
- 2-5 years went from 5.0% to 13.9%
- 6-11 years went from 6.5% to 18.8%
- 12-19 years went from 5.0% to 17.4%
The numbers show a definite increase in childhood obesity. In fact, the numbers have basically tripled. One question I could not help but wonder was why the first study took 4 years, and the second was done over the course of 2 years. The fact is I think the movie Super Size Me did a much better job of explaining the obesity epidemic. Although they did not specify ages, they did specify geography that I think if coupled with economic information would be very interesting.
The CDC also has a page regarding contributing factors to this epidemic. Here are the behavioral factors they list:
- Energy Intake- The CDC specifically points out sugar-sweetened beverages (i.e. Coca-Cola) that are high in calories as a potential leading cause due to children not compensating for their intake during meal time and their unfilling nature as a liquid as compared to a solid
- Physical Activity- The CDC points out that children will spend less time engaged in physical activity while in school. Daily participation in school physical activities dropped from 42% in 1991 to 28% in 2003. Education cutbacks, improper physical eduction criteria, and diminishing after school activities due to the loss of funds are all contributable factors
- Sedentary Behavior- The CDC found that one study showed children spending 3 hours a day watching television, DVDs, and movies as an attributable factor due to decreased activity, increased snacking, a lower metabolic rate, and finally a mention about children making poor choices due to advertisements. There is no mention of the amount of time children spend online, playing video games, or reading so it is assumed that those activities are in addition to the 3 hours
The CDC at no time lists cereal as a potentially contributable factor, and only once mentions advertisements. The CDC does mention that the 3 hours spent is watching television, DVDs, and movies but does not give any numbers regarding how many commercials for food are shown during that time period. One would assume that it would be a substantially less number considering that advertisements for food products have never been seen on a DVD and most movie advertisements happen before the previews for foodstuffs sold specifically at the concession stand of which there are none that I know of that sell cereal.
Here are the environmental factors the CDC lists:
- Within the home- the home environment can affect the behaviors of children who see their parents as role models including how it relates to calorie intake and activity
- Within childcare- Almost 80% of children 5 years and younger with working mothers spend 40+ hours a week in childcare. Childcare needs to be an environment where eating healthy and activity habits are developed
- Within schools- Because of the amount of time children spend in schools each day, they become an ideal place for nutritional education, healthy eating habits and physical activity. These habits can become lifetime values
- Within the community- Communities influence a child’s access to not only physical activity through parks, playgrounds, and bike paths but also a child’s access to affordable healthy food choices in local markets
What the CDC does do is highlight a point I have been trying to make since the fascist tyrants at the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, that the failure of our education system is not only a factor but appears to be along with economic impacts and the disappearance of the middle class, the REAL culprit here. Not only does the educational system fail to provide children with enough physical activity, but it has failed in educating them and their parents before them, who are role models to their children, about nutrition.
When properly educated, the advertisements will have no effect on the choices both children and adults make. The choices they make, whether society deems them right or wrong, will be their own and of their own free will. That is afterall what this country is all about… isn’t it?
The cereal companies, under threat of the lawsuit and special interest group pressure with no advocate from the general public as their own, had but only one thing to do…
- Kelloggs’ White Flag
On June 14, 2007 the Kellogg Company announced two initiatives that will change the way you see cereal.
The first initiative is something we applaud, the inclusion of nutrient information based on Guideline Daily Amounts on the front of the packaging. This “Nutrition at a Glance” graphic will be found on the front right corner of the box. This will NOT replace the Nutrition Fact Panel on the side of the box, but will simply make reading the information while shopping easier.
The information that will be included in the graphic based on GDA per serving are:
- Total Fat
The second initiative deals with their advertising practices on current products. By placing the Nutrient Criteria requirement on products advertised to children between the ages of 6-12 (Kelloggs currently does not advertise to any children under the age of 6), Kelloggs effectively has placed Toucan Sam along with Snap, Crackle, and Pop on the endangered species list. Both Froot Loops and Rice Krispies don’t currently meet the criteria, and if re-formulating the product does not bring them into line, then advertising will be dropped.
The problem with this is two-fold. First, changing the formula may render the product that has been a staple in households across America as unrecognizable (and quite possibly downright nasty tasting) by taste which will no longer conjure the sense of nostalgia and memories of childhoods past that so many adults crave. The second problem, if the re-formulated products STILL do not meet the Nutrient Criteria then advertising will be dropped from outlets that cater to the 6-12 year olds. Media outlets such as Nickelodeon (approx. $44 million dollars in advertising from Kelloggs in 2006) and Cartoon Network (approx. $20 million dollars in advertising from Kelloggs in 2006) will lose millions of advertising dollars. This will result in lower quality programming from these outlets, the cessation of new developments, and the lose of jobs for those in the industry.
The fact is that the cereal brands have been around for at least half a century. Childhood obesity is hardly caused by breakfast cereals. Some more attributable factors would be the new sedimentary lifestyle children are leading today, the fast food restaurants that working parents regularly turn to as a meal, and the decrease in after school activity funding. Any easy target for blame would be the parents, but at the same time we are living in economical times when it is hard enough for two parents working full time jobs to support their families let alone one parent.
Toucan Sam along with Snap, Crackle, and Pop are Americana Icons. To attack them is attacking the very foundations of the freedoms America was based on. If I want to eat Froot Loops, I should be allowed to eat Froot Loops as I did 25 years ago. If I allow my son to watch a channel that Kelloggs wants to show a Toucan Sam commercial on, then in fact he should see the commercial. If the commercial provides the urge for him to have Froot Loops, I as the parent ultimately have the final say with what I am willing to pay for, and what I’m not.
- General Mills and Post Follow
General Mills joined Kelloggs, Kraft Foods (Post Cereal) and eight other companies in pledging changes in their products approved by The Council of Better Business Bureaus under their Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative program. The pledges were announced at a forum entitled “Weighing In: A Check-Up on Marketing, Self-Regulation, and Childhood Obesity” on Wednesday June 18, 2007.
Not surprisingly some of the tyrants behind this movement, the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, have determined that this is already a failure. In their statement about the pledges they conclude that “It’s the role of government, not corporations bound by law to maximize profits, to safeguard public health.”
Here are the individual pledges made by each cereal company:
- General Mills, Inc.’s pledge provides that any product advertised to children under 12 must meet or exceed its nutrition guidelines for Health Dietary Choices, which are based on FDA standards for healthy foods, and the U.S. Dietary Guideline recommendations regarding foods targeted for increased consumption, and include limits on calories, fat, sodium and trans fat. In addition, General Mills will no longer advertise to children foods containing more than 12 grams of sugar per serving. All products will meet these requirements by the end of 2008, or they will no longer be advertised to children under 12.
- Kellogg Co.’s pledge reflects nutritional standards, announced in June, that include limits on calories, fat and sodium, as well as a 12 gram-per-serving sugar limitation, that are derived from FDA and Institute of Medicine (IOM) standards. The application of the company’s nutrient criteria affects nearly 50 percent of Kellogg’s products, including cereals, currently marketed to children worldwide. By the end of 2008, the company will either reformulate products to meet its criteria or it will stop advertising them to children.
- Post Cereals advertises only cereals that meet its Sensible Solution criteria. All of the cereals that it advertises to children have less than 12 grams of sugar and include either whole grains or a good source of fiber.
- The Economic Impact
What none of this addresses is the economic impact of the lack of advertising dollars that will occur, which will lead to a lack of interest in the product, which will lead to less of the product being manufactured in order to maintain a marginal profit, which will then also lead to lay offs. The lay offs won’t just come from the cereal companies, but from entertainment companies who lost the advertising dollar, the shipping companies who will no longer move the product, and the distribution centers where less product will require less workers.
Already, on August 16, 2007 the Wall Street Journal reported that Kraft Foods, the parent of Post Cereal, is in fact thinking about selling Post. Possible buyers include General Mills and Kelloggs, who would be looking to add Post‘s healthier brands to their products.
On August 28, 2007 General Mills announced they would be closing two plants and laying off 581 employees. The two plants, one in Pennsylvania and one in Canada, do NOT manufacture cereal but rather frozen waffles and dough. This is simply foreshadowing of what will happen down the road to the cereal plants as the lack of advertising will cause fewer sales.
How do we combat this? There is only one thing to do…
- Spread The Word!!!
- Cereal Wednesday Banner
- The Save The Cereal Square Graphic
- The Save The Cereal Vertical Tower Graphic