Each year, “Big Food” spends $2 billion in marketing campaigns to get its unhealthy snacks and sugary drinks into the hands of children.

This, and many other startling facts, were delivered in a 2013 viral YouTube video by Food MythBusters Anna Lappe, which has begun to recirculate given First Lady Michelle Obama’s recently-announced plans to ramp up the fight against the food industry and its ongoing push to saturate children with messaging that encourages unhealthy eating.

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According to Lappe, here’s what children, teens and parents are up against:

  • Children see an average of 4,600 commercials per year that advertise foods high in sugar, fat and calories.
  • Minority teens are strategically exposed to 80 percent more soda and drink ads since market research shows their demographic is more susceptible to such messaging. 
  • Big food’s ads have been integrated into schools with junk food-sponsored signage on classroom walls and Oreo cookie, M&M’s and Froot Loops study materials on students’ desks and lunch trays.
  • The food industry mines teen cell phone numbers and addresses to send texts and coupons for things like discounted McDonald’s Big Macs and free candy bars. 
  • Dentists are seeing a rise of young people in their 20s requiring dentures due to diets high in sugar. 
  • To get a Coca-Cola “physical activity kit” through My Coke Rewards—a prize and sweepstakes program that targets children—one would have to purchase 55,000 cans of Coke. 

“In the past 30 years, the prevalence of obesity among children and teens has tripled,” said Lappe. “Today, a child born in this country has a 1 in 3 chance of developing [diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma and even certain cancers] at some point in their lifetime. For African-American and Latino kids, that’s a 1 in 2 chance.”

What Can Be Done?

  • Michelle Obama recently proposed new rules through her “Let’s Move” campaign to limit the types of foods and beverages that can be advertised in schools. Under suggested federal regulations, companies would no longer be allowed to use logos of high-calorie products on cups, vending machines or posters.
  • Maine has initiated a statewide ban on marketing junk food in schools.
  • In California, moratoriums have been set to limit the spread of fast food franchises in neighborhoods lined with unhealthy restaurants.
  • Campaign for a Commercial Free Chlldhood stopped McDonald’s from including coupons for free Happy Meals in school report cards.

“To the junk food industry I say this: my children, all of our children, are none of your business,” said Lappe to end the video presentation.

Visit EcoWatch’s FOOD and HEALTH pages for more related news on this topic.

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