In an announcement quite similar to one made by Kraft a few years ago, Kellogg today said that it will stop promoting most of its junk foods to children under age 12 (see news release). Here is my comment:
Kellogg has been one of the most active companies in marketing junk foods to children—sugary cereals, Pop-Tarts, and Cheez-Its come to mind (see the chapter on “Foods Just for Kids” in What to Eat). That is why Center for Science in the Public Interest singled Kellogg out as a target for a potential lawsuit. Kellogg responded by taking a good hard look at company practices and agreeing to fix some of the worst. Let’s give the company credit for making impressive promises. But the proof will be in what it actually does. If Kellogg starts to lose sales as a result of the promised changes, the improvements are unlikely to last and the company will find other ways to market its products to kids. I say this because my conversation with a Kellogg official earlier this week was a word-for-word duplicate of one I had with an official of Kraft a few years ago when Kraft announced that it was reformulating its products and would be limiting its marketing to kids. Kraft did indeed make some of its promised changes but as some students of mine demonstrated last year, the company is still actively engaged in marketing junky foods to children (see paper by Lewin et al). I think food companies are in an enormously difficult position on this issue. Even if they want to do the right thing and really care about kids’ health, their primary responsibility is to meet stockholders’ investment expectations. If the reformulated products don’t sell, or if overall sales decline, the companies will be forced to find other ways to generate income. Let’s hope Kellogg is able to do what it promises, and that other companies immediately follow suit.