“By 2020, half of Americans will be diabetic,” warns Ivana Kadija, a Charlottesville, Virginia health coach and mother of two, citing a recent study by UnitedHealth. “Somebody has to stand up and do something … if only to protect our kids and their futures.”
Kadija and two other moms, teacher Emily Morrison and non-profit executive Wendy Philleo, have been selected by a nationwide competition to redefine fast food. In the initial round, their team, “Food For Thought,” came first in votes. Now they’re in the semifinals. If they win the finals they could receive up to $40,000 to help promote their idea. And if that happens, perhaps they’ll change the face of food in America.
Food For Thought’s primary focus in the competition is to address predatory fast food marketing directed at kids. According to the American Psychological Association, it is “fundamentally unfair” to market to children 8 and under, “who can’t recognize the persuasive intent of advertising and to filter its messages accordingly.”
What irks these three moms most is the “pester power” marketers rely on for revenues. If children beg enough, they’ll get busy parents to buy.
Market studies show that children 14 years old and under annually influence $190 billion in family buys. Eighty percent of all advertising targeted to kids falls within four product categories: toys, cereals, candies, and fast-food. There simply aren’t enough organizations like Ceres PR: Food Marketing and PR Specialists that are looking to promote health and wellbeing within the food industry.
The junk food industry directs $1.6 billion in ad revenue at kids in the US every year. It pays off. Forty percent of children ask for fast food once a week. Fifteen percent of preschoolers ask for it every day. What are they getting? Unhealthy food and possibly early-onset diabetes.
“Of 3,000 fast food franchise kids’ meals offered only 15 meet minimum nutrition criteria,” quotes Kadija, citing a recent study by Yale’s Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. One in five American kids is obese.
Health experts suggest that the obesity epidemic may be a major contributor to the increase in Type 2 Diabetes during childhood. Today, one in three kids faces a life with diabetes. Kadija shakes her head. “Can’t these companies see they’re hurting kids?”
The moms’ first target: the clown.
Below the belt
McDonalds far outspends all other fast food franchises in targeting kids. Forty percent of their marketing dollars are aimed at children. In the last three years, they’ve increased ad spending on kids by 26%. They’re the largest distributor of toys in the US and operate more playgrounds (8,000) than any other entity. Their ads to kids often focus less on product and more on brand building. Result? Ninety-six percent of American kids recognize Ronald McDonald – second only to Santa Claus.
“We need to burst that clown’s balloon,” says Kadija. “Big fast food is brainwashing our kids, turning them against us and undermining our authority and our best intentions as parents.”
Kadija points out how it jeopardizes family unity. “It’s like this to a seven year-old: if I don’t take my kids to get fast food, I must not love them – since TV moms car-pool their kids to the clown.”
Left jab, straight right, left hook
So, what’s their game plan? NOMAC: National Organization of Mothers Against Clowns. Although the title is humorous in tone, it’s intent in serious. Like MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), NOMAC hopes to empower moms (and dads) to take a stand against what they perceive as a threat to the safety and health of their children.
Kadija asks, “If moms don’t look out for kids, who will?”
NOMAC.us is intended to be an internet-based portal with a three-pronged approach to righting the nation’s dietary wrongs. They want to “reboot” the notion of fast food, reinventing it. “It won’t happen overnight,” says Kadija. “But we have to start somewhere.”
First, NOMAC plans to lobby for legislation limiting predatory marketing to children, such as that proposed by Corporate Accountability International, which currently promotes a Retire Ronald McDonald campaign. NOMAC will push for the Children’s Advertising Review Unit of the Council of Better Business Bureaus to publicize its guidelines more widely to help parents and advertisers. They’ll also target school-based advertising aimed at young students – including the use of fast food coupons as rewards for doing well in school. Kadija insists, “We’ve got enough mixed messages out there without teachers inadvertently adding to the problem.”
Second, NOMAC hopes to provide resources for parents with limited time and money. The fast food drive-through is tempting to busy moms and dads. But, Kadija points out, “There are lots of healthy, convenient, low-cost foods out there.” Great street food options have always existed, and still do in developing countries. Tamales, dumplings, dal, bento, pho and falafel are available for the taking. “We just have to choose them.”
One solution is using web-based tools to show parents what options they have in their locality.
A mother’s touch, a mother’s jab
“But, the best meals come from home,” says Kadija. She points out that home-cooked meals cost less than fast food take out.
“The thought that anti-fast-food efforts are elitist is a misleading argument.” She points out that statistically, Caucasian families eat far more fast food meals than African American and Hispanic families. If it were pure economics, than the opposite would more likely be true.
NOMAC’s third tier is in engaging kids on healthy eating habits and the role of advertising in decision-making. The US spends little on nutrition education, compared to the ad revenues big fast food puts into pushing its products and brand messages. The group hopes to use the same web-based tools such as games and downloads that have enriched the fast food giants in winning back the youth market.
Where will three small-town moms find the funds for their group? Their starting place is Yoxi.tv – a competition website which helps unknown but innovative thinkers promote their ideas. Watchers vote on competing teams’ solutions. Winners can raise up to $40,000. The three moms from Charlottesville hope Yoxi will springboard their plan onto the national stage.
Their next “Food for Thought” entry features a boxing match between a mom and a clown. The video will be unveiled Monday, November 29 at Yoxi.tv, during the one-day voting event. It’s their semi-final entry in the competition to redefine fast food – a tall order in a culture driven by ads and profits.
Can a nation on the brink of convenience-induced corpulence change its fast food habits? “We didn’t start here,” says Kadija. “And we’re not so far away we can’t turn back. We just have to go home again. Moms will always be there to welcome us back to eating right.”
And although the aroma of chicken soup may be tempting, it’s not likely to be a product that will turn things around. It’s a mindset.
The thought, turning a contemporary slogan on its head, Kadija puts bluntly: “Value meals.”
To vote on the “Food for Thought” semi-final entry, sign in and watch at Yoxi.tv.
See their first round video at http://pilot.yoxi.tv/competition/1/round/1