Demand for healthful kids’ meals at restaurants is growing. There is a great need for options for kids that are not only healthy but also flavorful, fun and interesting. Research shows that the aggressive marketing and advertising of high-calorie, unhealthy foods to children are contributing to today’s childhood obesity epidemic. Currently, almost one-third of children in the U.S. are obese or overweight.
The American Heart Association believes that educated consumers, armed with the right nutrition information, can make healthier choices when they are eating out. Better menu labeling can also inspire restaurant industry innovation. While the Nutrition Facts Label on packaged foods has been available since 1994, the same details are not provided on most restaurant menus, menu boards, or foods sold in venues for immediate consumption, such as movie theaters, sport arenas, and grocery store delis.
The amount of money that the food industry currently spends on marketing and advertising to influence what children choose to eat is twice the amount speant a decade ago. Young children ages 12 and under are especially vulnerable to these marketing and advertising strategies.
While the food industry has made some strides in self-regulation through the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising initiative and has recently strengthened the guidelines, the vast majority of foods allowed for marketing under these standards remain unhealthy.
The American Heart Association supports policy changes that address efforts to limit the marketing and advertising of low-nutrient, high calorie foods to U.S. children:
- Only healthy foods, such as fruit, 100% fruit juice, veggies, low-fat dairy products, and whole grain foods should be advertised and marketed to children.
- Product placement of food brands in movies, videogames, social networking sites, and television programming geared toward children should be discouraged.
- Toy companies and the movie industry should not be able to partner with fast food companies.
- Advertising should include positive messages promoting good nutrition and physical activity.
- Advertising, marketing, and brand awareness strategies used by industry should not be allowed in schools or in any educational materials theaters, sport arenas, and grocery store delis.
Restaurants should offer meal options that are less than 600 calories and focus on lean proteins, fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while limiting unhealthful fats, salt and sugar. Putting healthy choices on the menu empowers the consumer to be able to make wise choices, and will help provide solutions to child obesity.
<Thanks to You’re the Cure advocate/Volunteer Writer Karen Wiggins for development of this article>
Girl http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eating_a_Georgia_peach.jpg (permission obtained)