Video: Why cereal cartoons won't change soon

  1. Closed captioning of: Why cereal cartoons won't change soon

    >>> anybody having sugary cereal for breakfast? if you're eating sugary cereal, any chance --

    >> cocoa puffs .

    >> count chocula .

    >> i hate to interrupt you, mickey, because you know i never to unless it was important.

    >> this is going to be key to our --

    >> they tear everybody apart. shaughnessy goes after the pitchers who do deserve to be gone after.

    >> yeah.

    >> go after everybody.

    >> uh-huh.

    >> i think unfairly goes after the owners. but this is just -- it's horrible. these guys will be playing video games , eating fast food and mickey, you know how i feel about fast food .

    >> fried chicken and video games , a good training regimen for your starting rotation.

    >> well, it's boston, it's who we are.

    >> you should have seen what joe had for lunch yesterday. it was disgusting.

    >> tell us.

    >> it was disgusting.

    >> so anyway, the question mika wants to ask is whether cereal cartoon characters help convince kids what to buy or not.

    >> no, i don't think it does. i think they need to change the cereal, actually. just change the cereal. anyhow, some of the nation's leading health experts think it's big enough concern they're talking about cutting the ads on the cartoons.

    >> no, no, no.

    >> no, cut the cereal.

    >> no if.

    >> nbc's tom costello joins us live from washington. tom, i'm sorry, it just seems like a silly approach.

    >> i need my lucky charms , the cute little leprechaun, count chocula .

    >> i mean, seriously.

    >> tony the tiger .

    >> this is like 100 voices in my head . i can't -- trying to follow this. but you --

    >> this is the exact debate on capitol hill that they have been having for the last day or so. you know, nutrition experts, they warn us about the villains, the fast food , sugary cereals, the drinks, the fake food, the snacks, too much salt, everything that's in joe's diet.

    >> wait. did you say fake food, because let me tell you something, tom costello , you look at the chemical breakdown of crunch berries , and i will tell you, those are packed with seven essential vitamins. but go ahead.

    >> you just ruined my roll cue. so let me --

    >> hey, tom --

    >> are the cute characters. pushing us to eat stuff we shouldn't buy.

    >> yes.

    >> going cuckoo for the great chocolatey taste of cocoa puffs .

    >> for anyone who feels a bit of nostalgia for the cocoa puffs birds --

    >> cuckoo for cocoa puffs --

    >> the lucky charms leprechaun.

    >> i think i know why my kids love my lucky charms so much.

    >> and tony the tiger .

    >> they're great!

    >> you can rest easy, they're not going anywhere.

    >> my children will immediately go up to the products with their favorite characters on them and ask what this product is, and what -- can i get this.

    >> i wish i could take the stuff that is nutritious and put a character on it, because then my kids would eat it.

    >> nearly everyone agrees, america has some serious health issues. the cdc reports 17% of kids ages 2 to 19 are obese. more than 12 million kids. and the rate has nearly tripled since 1980 . consumer advocates say the advertising gets some of the blame.

    >> can bring out the tiger in you.

    >> it shapes the whole way they think about food. and unfortunately, the kind of diet that's marketed to children as desirable to eat is light years away from the kind of diet that's healthy to eat.

    >> the food industry insists, it takes nutrition seriously and offers lots of healthy choices. but reacting to the obesity crisis, the government this year offered voluntary guidelines for food manufacturers , suggesting new maximum levels of fat, sugar and salt. and asking the food industry to stop advertising some of the less wholesome choices to kids under the age of 17.

    >> we're not talking about banning food advertising. we're talking about modifying food advertising. but the food industry insists that amounts to government overreach, staying in a statement, ultimately, the proposal is anything but voluntary and will have little or no impact on obesity and public health . on wednesday, a republican-led congressional committee seemed to agree.

    >> we all want to see an end to childhood obesity . but this seems to be a far-fetched approach.

    >> so tony the tiger and lucky the leprechaun will stay on america's tv sets and cereal boxes with parents getting the final word on what's appropriate and what's not. so the food industry , including the cereal makers, all say they offer plenty of healthy choices and are already making voluntary changes to child-directed marketing. but in the end, it all comes down to personal choice and making the right choices about what we eat.

    >> okay. fine. but you know what they could do, tom, seriously? they could take crunch berries , count chocula and put them in little bags and put them in the candy aisle.

    >> stir it all up. stir it up!

    >> it's not breakfast.

    >> with some chocolate milk . i wonder what bo sefus would say about this. this is a challenge to our first amendment right. of package that.

    >> it's breakfast poison. it's not good for your kids. it's like candy. drinking a soda. it's just like having a milky way .

    >> have you no decency sir?

    >> thank you for your patience, tom.

    >> tom costello is awesome.

    >> so is frosted flakes .

Image: Childhood obesity
Matt Slocum  /  AP
Potato chips and French fries make up half of all the vegetables kids eat.
By Herb Weisbaum ConsumerMan contributor
updated 10/13/2011 10:52:32 AM ET 2011-10-13T14:52:32

Consumer groups have launched a lobbying campaign aimed at restricting the amount of junk food marketing targeted at kids. It’s called, “We’re not Buying It” and it’s intended to reduce the thousands of commercial messages children see every year for foods that aren’t good for them.

“Our kids' health is really at stake here,” says Juliet Sims with the Prevention Institute, one of the consumer groups leading this political food fight. “Each year they spend $2 billion marketing food to kids and the vast majority of that is junk food.”

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By now you’ve heard about just how big the childhood obesity problem has become, thanks in large part to first lady Michelle Obama.

One in three kids in this country is now overweight or obese. Overweight children face a greater risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma.

According to a recent federal report, the prime sources of calories for American children these days are: cookies, cakes, pizza and sweetened drinks. That same report says potato chips and French fries make up half of all the vegetables kids eat.

In 2009, Congress directed top nutrition and marketing experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Federal Trade Commission to develop guidelines for companies marketing food to children 2 to 17 years old.

On Wednesday, David Vladeck, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, told Congress the working group plans to make significant revisions to its draft proposal. Vladeck testified that the FTC staff has now determined that except for certain in-school marketing activities, it is not necessary to have the advertising guidelines include adolescents age 12 to 17.

This Interagency Working Group released its proposals for comment in April. Now it would like Congress to accept them. They focus on two basic nutrition principles for marketing food to children:

  • Advertising and marketing should encourage children to choose foods that make meaningful contributions to a healthful diet from food groups including vegetables, fruit, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk products, fish, extra lean meat and poultry, eggs, nuts or seeds and beans.
  • The saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars, and sodium in foods marketed to children should be limited to minimize the negative impact on children’s health and weight.

These are voluntary recommendations and do not call for any government regulation. Even so, food, beverage and media companies don’t like the draft guidelines and they’ve been aggressively lobbying Congress to reject them.

Christopher Gindlesperger, director of communications at the American Beverage Association, calls the recommendations “impractical and overly restrictive.” And he says they won’t reduce childhood obesity.

Gindlesperger points out that between 2004 and 2010 the industry has cut calories available from beverages in schools by 88 percent. He calls that “a great achievement that we are very proud of.”

Food makers also object to having the guidelines include ages 12 to 17. They believe these are young adults who do not need to be protected from advertising.

Why I miss Lucky the Leprechaun, my bad boy ex

Dan Jaffe with the Association of National Advertisers calls the working group’s proposals “extraordinarily radical” and says that 88 of the top 100 most consumed foods in the U.S. would not make the cut.

“We do not think the government has the authority to step in and start restricting the advertising of legal foods that are legal for anybody to purchase,” Jaffe says. “We have set up a very strong self-regulatory system that has set very clear guidelines for this advertising.”

Jaffe says advertising of food and beverages has gone down more than 50 percent to kids under 12 and the advertising that is done has changed substantially.

Consumer advocates agree that the food industry has made improvements in recent years. But they say, more needs to be done because the majority of food ads aimed at kids are still for unhealthful products.

Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (a consumer advocacy group), says the new guidelines are needed because the voluntary nutrition standards currently used by food companies “are too weak” and allow a lot of sugary, salty and fatty foods to be considered healthy.

“We’re not asking companies to stop marketing to kids,” Wootan says. “We’re just asking them to be responsible with how they do it.

New types of ads target a new generation
Jeff Chester, director of the Center for Digital Democracy, is helping lead this fight to get the food advertising guidelines put in place because he sees how food companies are using smart phones and the Internet (everything from Facebook to online games) to reach kids.

“They’re using all the ways that kids get information today that flies under the radar of what a parent knows about or even controls,” Chester explains. “This is food marketing on digital steroids that they want to maintain and they are afraid these proposed guidelines would put a dent in that.”

My two cents
Clearly, food companies have the right to sell their products to kids and make a profit. But they also have the responsibility to protect the health of our nation’s children. And let’s not forget, for young children, it’s the parents’ job to decide what they eat. Just because your son or daughter asks for it, doesn’t mean you have to buy it.

Change is never easy, but as the Interagency Working Group’s report notes: “Industry has the resources and creative know-how to encourage children to make better choices …” I believe they do.

And remember, these proposals are voluntary. There’s no enforcement action here. Companies can choose to follow them or not. It makes me wonder: why is the industry so afraid of a little advice?

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