Last week breakfast-cereal giant Kellogg’s struck a deal with the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), agreeing to significantly scale down its advertisements on children’s television and to reduce the sugar content of its snacks and cereals. CSPI is trumpeting these self-imposed restrictions as a groundbreaking step forward in the fight against escalating rates of childhood obesity. But given the circumstances — notably the fact that a CSPI-led band of food cops had threatened to drag Kellogg’s into court if it didn’t capitulate — we have our suspicions.
For starters, the link between food ads and childhood obesity is about as real as Toucan Sam and the Rice Krispies elves, a reality all too obvious in the evidence-free opinion pieces supporting the agreement. Exhibit A comes from Saturday’s New York Times, which editorialized:
Children are defenseless against the wiles of Madison Avenue … [T]hese snappy ads directed at the young help create bad eating habits for life.
This is a well-worn talking point that we’ve extensively debunked before. And our case got even stronger two weeks ago, when not one but two separate studies found that today’s kids aren’t seeing any more food ads than kids thirty years ago.
Moreover, as The Wall Street Journal’s editors note today:
Sugared breakfast cereals aren’t the cause of obesity among children. They’ve been around for decades and are a source of nutrition for children who will find a way to sweeten plain corn flakes in any case. Try serving your child a grapefruit for breakfast and watch him scowl unless he can pile on spoonfuls of sugar. The rise of obesity in kids has far more to do with a lack of exercise and overeating in general. But you can’t sue parents for letting Jason and Emily watch TV for hours. So the food activists … are targeting the cereal makers and broadcasters.