Selling Crap to Kids, Part 4

Ten years ago, Landon Hall interviewed Margo Wootan, who was Director of Nutrition Policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and who opined that…

[K]ids used to eat what their parents ate. But the trend in recent years is for kids’ tastes to rule the family dinner table as well. Too often, that means chicken nuggets, hot dogs, pizza or something else from that fat-and-carb family of foods… Changing this idea of what is a kid’s meal is crucial to solving child obesity. You can’t solve obesity if kids’ food is mostly junk.

The situation has not changed favorably since then. Should parents shoulder the blame? Actually, no. According to many experts, all the shame belongs to the food industry, which single-handedly invented the notion that children are entitled to have their “own foods,” and then sold the idea to kids and, unfortunately, even to some parents.

In January of 2014, Sean Poulter reported that according to the Food Standards Agency,

Nine in ten items at the check-outs of supermarket convenience stores would be considered ‘very unhealthy.’

The writer accused retail stores of being acutely aware of, and using, “pester power” (sometimes known as “nagging beyond endurance”). A display of chocolate never fails to trigger a barrage of whining, especially if the product is strategically placed in a low line of sight appropriate to humans age 3 to 5. He quoted Dr. Jason Horsley who said,

Youngsters […] will see something, want it and have a tantrum if they don’t get. It depends how brave the parent is as to whether they buy it or not.

We can’t show a direct correlation between these displays and rising obesity. But we can say that supermarket check-outs selling junk food, making it cheap and readily available, are not going to reduce the nation’s obesity.

At that point in history, the average American child was absorbing around 16,000 TV commercials per year, a great many of them featuring food — and not good food. But even if all the offerings had been supremely healthful, an increasing number of adults were ideologically opposed to the audacity the industry showed in presuming to deal directly with children.

Journalist Bruce Watson quoted a British source, Ian Barber, who pontificated thusly:

Advertising becomes a proxy for complaints about particular companies, brands or products. Advertising isn’t the issue. The sort of advertisements that children see is the issue. But then you get into a very objective debate about how people feel about certain brands or services.

That incoherent declaration came, by the way, from the communications director of the Advertising Association in the U.K., and it doesn’t even make a lick of sense. Angry outbursts from parents and health professionals are anything but objective. They are, in fact, the epitome of subjectivity. People have strong personal convictions about this sort of thing, which tend to show. But those corporate types are so accustomed to spouting nonsense, they don’t even recognize it when it pours out of their own mouths.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “When did kids start to eat apart from adults?,”, 12/17/13
Source: “Supermarkets accused of using ‘pester power’,”, 01/24/14
Source: “The tricky business of advertising to children,”, 02/24/14
Images by Jeff Boulter, Marco Verch Professional, Joe Shlabotnik/CC BY 2.0

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FAQs and Media Requests: Click here…

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

Profiles: Kids Struggling with Obesity top bottom

The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources