Hey, kids, look! Look! Over here! Buy this food-like product! Kids! Yoo-hoo!

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Food companies aren’t giving up -- and parents as a whole don’t seem to be getting much smarter. So kids may have to become savvy (healthier) consumers on their own.

Researchers at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy went shopping at a big supermarket in 2006, 2007 and 2008 for all food products packaged with cross-promotion in mind -- you know, mutual advertisement of cartoon characters, celebrities, movies, TV shows, games, professional sports...

Among their findings: ‘The number of products with youth-oriented cross promotions increased by 78% during the period examined ... Only 18% of products met accepted nutrition standards for foods sold to youth, and nutritional quality declined during the period examined.’


Such packaging was most often found on cereal, fruit snacks, meals, frozen desserts and candy. Commercial television was the biggest ‘promotional partner,’ followed by movies, toys and games, public television (tsk), and sports.

We’ve become accustomed to the presence of Barbie and animated characters in our food aisles. But ‘American Idol’ and Kids Choice Awards, Major League Baseball and NASCAR ... they’re no stranger these days either.

Reflecting on food marketers’ nascent efforts to shape up, the researchers write in their discussion: ‘Given the extent of the necessary changes to current self-regulatory pledges, these findings also support the concerns of many public health advocates that self-regulation by the food industry may not produce any meaningful improvement in the food environment that surrounds young people.’

The study is part of an ongoing crusade from the Rudd Center, with the results (already published online) scheduled for the March issue of Public Health Nutrition. Here’s a news release and the abstract.

Maybe ‘cross-promotion’ is another way of saying, ‘Please don’t read the food label.’

-- Tami Dennis