Fatty Food Companies Go On Tough PR Diet

June 25, 2005 (PRLEAP.COM) Business News
Since 1975, obesity rates among U.S. children have more than doubled — and more than tripled among kids aged 6 to 11. Lawmakers, consumer groups and class-action attorneys are increasingly laying the blame for this trend on the "deceptive" marketing campaigns of major food companies.

Gradually — too gradually for their own good, frankly — food companies such as McDonald's and Kraft have recognized the obesity trend as a PR crisis that needs to be addressed head-on. Finally, we have a "new" Ronald McDonald who's as concerned about his body fat ratio as he is about the Hamburglar.

Marketing food (or anything else) to children is a touchy subject. As parents know, many advertisers aggressively use the "nag factor" to push product. They want children to bug their parents until the parents break down ("OK, OK, I'll take you to McDonald's if you promise to be quiet!") Food marketers can demonstrate the efficacy of the "nag factor" in quantifiable detail.

But we can't lay the blame for our fat kids on food companies and their advertising. It's actually a relatively minor factor in the obesity epidemic. Other, more important trends are involved. For example:

— With the increase in single-parent homes and homes where both parents work, parents simply aren't preparing nutritional meals for their children.

— Children are spending far more time with sedentary pursuits such as television, computers and video games.

— Children don't walk or ride bicycles nearly as much as in the past, due to the evolution of urban and suburban design as well as parents' crime concerns.

These trends are difficult, if not intractable. The easier solution for politicians, therefore, is to scapegoat food companies and their advertising agencies.

Perhaps it's a good thing to restrict advertising directed at children. But in this case, it won't solve the problem. Now that food advertisers have finally realized the importance of PR to their defense, perhaps they will make a stronger case for themselves.

For more analysis of public relations and trends, visit www.mediaorchard.com.