by Marion Nestle
Aug 31 2011

Food companies lagging in encouraging healthy diets? GMA says not at all

A few days ago I noted that an evaluation of food companies’ efforts to promote healthy diets to children came to gentle conclusions.  It praised the industry for what I thought were minimal actions.

No so says the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA), an industry trade group.  According to FoodNavigator, the GMA sent out an e-mailed press release saying:

The health and wellness of our consumers has always been a top priority, and we have significantly accelerated our effort to help consumers build healthier lifestyles in recent years.

…When it comes to responsible marketing practices, GMA and its member companies have taken the lead in voluntarily adopting and adhering to strict advertising criteria.

…The industry has extended its nutrition standards for marketing to children to include social media, mobile device advertising and video games.

Voluntary restrictions on food and beverage advertising are another important example of how our industry is doing its part….”

Hello?  The GMA’s statements are precisely why the restrictions need to be mandatory.


  • Anthro

    Could the GMA please give some examples of their “responsible” marketing, as well as some hard numbers as to how this has helped the population they target?

  • Socio mom

    A few months ago my 2-year old daughter was sick with a stomach virus. I went to our local corner store in a desperate search for animal crackers, remembering that they once appealed to her when she was ill and made her want to drink when she was becoming dehydrated. The closest thing I could find were “Teddy Grahams.” After looking at the ingredient list, which was largely incomprehensible (and I have a PhD), I reluctantly took them home. I tasted one of the cookies, finding it alarmingly sweet considering that the sugar content (according to the nutritional information) was not alarmingly high. After having some melon and a few saltines, my daughter ate one of the little bears (which I told her were “animal crackers”), then promptly returned all she had eaten onto the kitchen floor. After she went to bed I tucked the packaged product far into the cabinet where I could barely reach it.

    The next morning, feeling a little better, my daugher was ready for breakfast. At first, I didn’t know what she was talking about when she said, “Can I have a dancing bear?” Apparently, even in her woozy state, the brief glimpse she caught of the jolly fuzzy bear on the box was enough to become imprinted in her sponge-like toddler mind. Wow, I thought, the marketing folks really know their target audiences.

    Parents of young kids today – even those with the education and skills that might help to filter some of the messages sent to their kids – are up against a lot. We’re in largely unchartered territory given that we’re the first generation to raise kids who are immersed in new forms of social media. I hardly find the GMA statement reassuring.

  • Ricky

    These are not public health advocates or charities and their own self-interest, not yours, comes first and foremost. So it is like the guy in the movie that said “trust me”… take the nutritional advice from Pizza Hut, yeah right.

    The thing is the one does not have to take the marketing barrage and meddling passively. Remember the endless stream of telemarketers calling you while having dinner? Enough people complained and the no call registry did put a stop to that didn’t it.

    At the very least demand that FTC, FDA, public health community work together to craft voluntary marketing standards and then publicize which companies opt out.

  • Thanks for the above comments – very helpful.

  • Kim M.

    Ricky said:

    “The thing is the one does not have to take the marketing barrage and meddling passively….”

    While that may be true for adults, unfortunately it’s not so for children, a fact to which Socio mom alluded in her comments. Food companies should not be allowed to market to kids. Period.

    As for the statements in GMA’s press release, does SNL know about the comedian who wrote them?

  • Jon

    Remember those “smart checks” from Pepsi? Where everything they made had one?

    That’s why I don’t believe in voluntary standards.

  • Can’t trust them to be responsible when making money is their number one goal.

  • MsWorld

    What it all comes down to is: Convenience=Poor Health

    The only way we can trust the food we eat is to make it ourselves.

    You say you haven’t got the time? Well, make it. We must care more about our health than convenience.

    I’ve spent 3 years learning how to be better– to learn how to cook a wide variety of healthy foods from raw unprocessed ingredients: Whole Wheat Flour, Brown Rice, Whole Fresh Vegetables, Whole Fresh Fruits, Dry Beans.
    –because HECK- we can’t even trust canned beans anymore.

    Fact is, until we all start Opting out of Processed food completely, the industry has no incentive to change their poisonous ingredients.

    Once people aren’t wasting their money on overpriced Crap, these companies will no longer exist. And that’s exactly what we need. Stop funding large food industry corporations and start funding the diversified farm down the road.

    There is no other way.

  • When food companies market a chocolate spread as being nutritious and a shake to replace a breakfast meal…both of which gets daily advertisement, then the definition of a healthy meal needs to be defined.

    Food companies have a problem. Their foods must keep fresh, they must keep their foods active for a specific period of time, laws have been passed to make sure that foods are at a certain quality and they must have repeat buyers. Salt and all of those long named chemicals do those jobs and when they get reduced, the food tastes differently. And people go elsewhere.

    In the UK, they reduced the salt in a popular sauce and people complained that it didn’t taste right.

    Coke sells far more “normal” Coke than “Diet” Coke, because there is very much a difference in taste.

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