Domestic and Economic Policy

BLOG: Get Big Government Out of My Cereal Box

By Crystal Wright, Senior Fellow

July 6, 2011

As a kid, I loved eating Lucky Charms and my bothers and I couldn’t wait to finish the box of cereal to get the prize inside. We also ate chocolate chip cookies and drank sodas in moderation. None of us are fat because my mother instilled good eating habits in us and we played sports, rode bikes or ran around the yard.

Now big government not only wants to dive into America’s cereal box but also tell parents what to feed their kids. A gang of four colossal agencies (the Food and Drug Administration, Federal Trade Commission, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the US Department of Agriculture) are joining forces to severely limit food and beverage advertising to kids. This Interagency Working Group (IWG) seeks to develop voluntary industry guidelines on food marketed to kids age 2-17.

Though dubbed “voluntary,” the food industry believes this a “thinly veiled government command”  intended to circumvent the regulatory process. Why? Because obesity rates are rising among kids, especially black kids, and the government thinks parents, particularly black parents, aren’t smart enough to decide what foods to feed their kids. By banning food ads, the government thinks kids will magically slim down.

It’s true black Americans have the highest rates of obesity in the nation but this isn’t because of food ads. As a black woman, I find it insulting that whenever government talks about a problem affecting minorities, it takes this paternalistic approach that blacks and hispanics are too stupid to make informed decisions and need to be protected from themselves.

For many blacks who are obese, the culprit is consuming a “soul food” diet rich in fat, sugar and sodium, which has been passed down from generations along with not exercising. If the government wants to help blacks and other Americans combat childhood obesity, it should follow Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” anti- childhood obesity campaign and encourage parents to get their kids exercising. Other great programs include the Bernard Center’s “Moms and Dads Know Best” Facebook campaign and  Dr. Ian Smith’s “The Makeover Mile,” a one mile health walk to encourage Americans to lead healthier lifestyles.

Aside from the fact this proposal is void of scientific evidence; it fails to acknowledge kids are fat in America because they don’t exercise!  Research by Georgetown Economic Services (GES) found food and beverage ads to kids dropped 50% from 2004-2010 while childhood obesity rates climbed.

Previous analysis by GES found TV food and restaurant ads viewed by kids age 2-11 declined from 1993-2004 and concluded “these results cast doubt . . . on the correlations between the volume of commercials and the trend in childhood obesity.” Following the government’s logic, if ads cause kids to become obese, then kids should have slimmed down over the past 17 years.

The solution to trimming America’s kid bulge is not more government in our lives but bringing back mandatory physical education in public schools. According to the National Association of Sports and Physical Education only five states require physical education in every grade from K-12.

If these proposed guidelines become effective, foods like Cheerios, Wheaties, animal crackers and milk could become more expensive. On future shopping trips, parents might find slim pickings of other nutritious foods like yogurt, peanut butter and milk. because manufacturers would lose their incentive to develop new products. You may be shaking your head saying, “How can this be true?”

These “voluntary” guidelines would ban the industry from advertising to kids and on certain programs where most viewers are adults. Food companies would also be prohibited from using animated characters like the Jolly Green Giant, the Pillsbury Dough Boy, Peter Pan or athletes to market products. Toy co-branding with food companies would also be restricted.  It’s simple, advertising and marketing help inform consumers about products, which drive up sales.

Such draconian measures would have a devastating impact on jobs. By choking off companies’ ability to advertise, big government could force farmers, grocers and other retailers to fire many of the 1.5 million Americans working in the food industry. At a time when jobs are scarce, this capricious food ban is just plain stupid.

Food advertising doesn’t make kids obese. A lack of exercise and balanced diet does. Instead of banning food ads to kids, government should bring back mandatory PE in schools and leave food choices up to parents. This food ban is a slippery slope to government telling parents how to raise their kids. What’s next, banning toys like Betty Crocker’s Easy Bake Oven (another childhood favorite of mine) because girls will get fat learning how to bake cakes?

This blog post was first published at

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