As the 20-teens decade progressed, conditions grew worse in the realm of celebrity endorsements. A study from New York University’s School of Medicine zeroed in on the sick relationship between the sports industry and the junk food industry.
Journalist Megan Sheets summarized it thusly:
More than three quarters of food products and half of beverages sponsored by the leagues most popular among American children are unhealthy… The findings revealed that 76 percent of food products are unhealthy and 52.4 percent of beverages are sugar sweetened across all of the sports-organization sponsored advertisements. Little League had the third-most unhealthy sponsorships.
Increasingly, individual athletes were blamed and shamed for making money from this unholy alliance. A study published in Pediatrics demonstrated that:
Social-media “influencers” can drive kids to consume unhealthy foods… But that clout disappears when it comes to their promoting healthy foods… [S]eeing influencers promote healthy snacks didn’t significantly move the needle on food intake.
The United Kingdom’s University of Cambridge published a study which indicated that setting a limit on the hours when TV ads directed at children could be shown, would make a “meaningful contribution” toward reducing childhood obesity. Dr. Oliver Mytton told the press,
Our analysis shows that introducing a 9 PM watershed on unhealthy TV food advertising can make a valuable contribution to protecting the future health of all children in the UK… However, children now consume media from a range of sources, and increasingly from online and on-demand services… [I]t is important l to ensure that this advertising doesn’t just move to the 9-10pm slot and to online services.
A noble ambition, but one doomed from its inception because obviously, the trend would only continue in one direction, toward 24 hours per day of entertainment financed by ads for everything awful.
The year 2021 began with a New York Times piece by Mark Bittman pessimistically titled “Why Your New Year’s Diet Is Doomed.” He placed the blame on “the Big Food marketers that sell you that junk” to the tune of $14 billion (with a B) spent on advertising per year, and then generously extended the shame to “politicians who enable them.” Why? Because government serves “the interests of agribusiness, food processors, marketers and retailers.”
In relation to this, Bittman helpfully pointed out that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention work with a budget of less than $1 billion per year to prevent disease and promote health. For the mathematically challenged, that means the promoters of disease and preventers of health were spending 14 times as much. It’s all about money, in more ways than one.
The primary determinant of the quality of diet is income, not ignorance, intelligence or will. With 12 percent of Americans going hungry, and millions of households with children uncertain that they’ll be able to feed their kids, the “choice” is often between eating processed food and not eating at all.
Sabrina Sanchez wrote those words in the middle of 2021, by which time COVID-19 had become a factor to be reckoned with. A 72-page report was published showing that “brands and platforms including McDonald’s, Unilever, Facebook and Twitch use technology-driven marketing tactics to sell high-sugar and high-sodium products to kids, leading to obesity.”
Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, warned that manufacturers had built “arsenals of data profiling services” using artificial intelligence and machine learning. The purpose of these constructs was to predict the most effective way to advertise, and then to make sure that the predictions came true. Chester says,
In 2020, children between the ages of 6 to 8 years-old cited McDonald’s as their number-one favorite brand, followed by YouTube, Oreo and M&Ms, according to youth market researchers Smarty Pants. Minors ages 9 to17 years-old cited YouTube first, followed by Oreo, Hershey’s, Cheetos and Doritos among the top 10.
The issue was raised that such marketing machinations could be violating the 1998 Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998. Advocacy groups tried their best, but realistically, obtaining protection via child privacy legislation never stood a chance.
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Source: “Sports leagues blamed for fueling childhood obesity as 76% of teams promote junk food and soda,” DailyMail.co.uk, 03/26/18
Source: “How social-media influencers are making your kids fat,” NYPost.com, 03/05/19
Source: “Television advertising limits can reduce childhood obesity, study concludes,” ScienceDaily.com, 10/13/20
Source: “Why Your New Year’s Diet Is Doomed,” NYTimes.com, 01/09/21
Source: “Fast food and soft drink advertising contributes to childhood obesity,” CampaignLive.com, 05/12/21
Image by Tony Alter/CC BY 2.0 DEED