Reversing the Childhood Obesity Trend (is a Big Idea!)

As a marketer I’m always looking for inspiration, and I’m certain most of us who work in the industry would like nothing more than to conceptually develop and execute the next big idea.  Some of you might wonder what I mean – big idea seems slightly vague I assume.  In this instance I liken a big idea to something that is life changing, or big enough perhaps to become a movement.

For inspiration I need not look further than my own flesh and blood – enter my 3 (“I’m almost 4 dad, then I’ll be 5”) year old son.  Fortunately for my wife and I, our son is an extremely active (perhaps hyperactive) kid who likes to play outside every minute of the day.  Reality dictates that he eventually head indoors to take a bath, then our greatest challenge is getting him to unwind before bed time.  One tactic we execute sparingly is to reward him with 30 minutes of “cartoon time” if he comes inside with little resistance, and takes a bath and brushes his teeth in a timely matter.  That’s when I began to personally experience the power of marketing and advertising, and its effectiveness when geared towards children.

My son already easily identifies with brands such as McDonald’s, Chips Ahoy and Apple Jacks.  And when he sees the ads he utters the words “I want that” almost every time.  As a parent, I simply laugh (at least I did at first) and within 60 seconds or less we’ve moved on to something else.  It’s what transpires next – outside of the home – that was most startling.  Now on any given day, when we drive by a McDonald’s, the following exchange usually occurs: [1] “Daddy I want Chicken Nuggets,” [2] Dad (most often) says “No” and [3] for the next several minutes my son’s world comes crashing down around him.  This same event will also transpire in the grocery store, with the cereal and cookie aisles being most dreadful.

I understand the power of connecting with your target market emotionally.  But as a marketer I’m also wondering if our industry is truly to blame (at least partially) for the prevalent childhood obesity epidemic that has emerged in communities all around our country.  From what I’m hearing and reading (and there’s a lot to read), many people seem to agree.

“For food companies, the children’s market is a top concern. Peddling food to kids is now a $13-billion-a-year business, complete with celebrity- and athlete-endorsed products, and marketing tie-ins with popular cartoons and TV shows. Industry giants such as Kraft Foods, Nabisco, Coke, and Pepsi all compete for prime Saturday morning advertising timeslots — and the name of the game is junk food.”

As recent as 24 months ago the Federal Trade Commission reported that “food and beverage marketers are spending $8.4 billion less to target children as initially thought.”  The FTC report went on to say “food, fast food and beverage makers spent $1.6 billion marketing to children under 17 in 2006.” Many still think this number is too high.

So – what does all of this have to do with a big idea?  For starters, how do we really begin to reverse the childhood obesity trend?  From what I’ve read – and I agree – one perspective gaining momentum is that the paradigm shift must start at the local level.   It’s easier to affect change in neighborhoods, towns and cities, than it is in states, regions or nations.  In this case, the blue print to begin the reversal of fortune for the future of our children starts with individuals in our own communities.  Having said that, who in South Bend (Indiana) and/or the surrounding areas is ready to step up?

In future posts (as it’s evident I have a lot to say about this topic), I will look at barriers (the most common being cost and time), popular channels or mediums being used to affect change (like Refresh Everything or Members Project) and potential advocates (local organizations, groups or leaders) who could help lead the charge.

Have a perspective or idea relevant to this topic?  If so, hit me up at [email protected] or visit to learn more about the agency I represent, and how we build communities one brand Soul at a time.