Thursday, April 29, 2010

Santa Clara County Begins the Fast Food Toy Rebellion - Parents Rejoice!

Any parent who has ever driven by a McDonald's with little ones in the back seat knows how hard it can be to resist the lobbying, often made even worse due to the marketing of toys with Happy Meals. And of course, other fast food chains also lure kids in with the latest installment of some toy series, often tied to the latest blockbuster movie. 

I've been saying for years that it's only a matter of time until some city or county figures out that a simple change in law is all that's needed to make such promotions illegal at the local level. (Localities have tremendous public health authority that is often underutilized.) On Tuesday, it finally happened, and I am proud to say, in a county in my home state of California.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Santa Clara County (Calif) bans toys in unhealthy fast food - press release

I will write more about this soon, but here is the press release:

County Officials Pass Nation’s First Childhood Obesity Ordinance to Address Restaurant Toy Giveaways

San José – Today [Tues 4/27], the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance proposed by Board President Ken Yeager that is the first of its kind in the United States.  The new law will combat childhood obesity by preventing restaurants from using toys and other incentives to lure kids to meals that are high in fat, sugar and calories. Today’s action supports parents’ efforts to choose more nutritious options for their children.
Restaurants encourage children to choose specific menu items by linking them with free toys and other incentive items, and research shows that parents frequently make purchases based on requests made by children.  In 2006, the Federal Trade Commission estimated that restaurants sold 1.2 billion meals accompanied by toys to children under 12.  While there are currently no nutritional standards for  meals marketed to children, a 2008 study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 10 out of 12 meals exceeding the recommended caloric limits for children came with toys.
“This ordinance levels the playing field,” said Yeager.  “It helps parents make the choices they want for their children without toys and other freebies luring them toward food that fails to meet basic nutritional standards.”
One in four youth in Santa Clara county are either overweight or obese, and one in three low-income children in Santa Clara County between ages two and five are overweight or obese.  Nationally, childhood obesity has tripled since the 1970s.  Obesity is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.  Thirty percent of boys and 40% of girls born in 2000 will be diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, which can result in the loss of, on average, 10-15 years of life.
“The latest generation of children may be the first to live shorter lives than their parents,” said Yeager of the childhood obesity crisis.  “Using toys to entice children into poor health habits is a problem that needs to be addressed.”
The ordinance supports the health of children in the County by setting basic nutritional standards for children’s meals accompanied by toys or other incentive items.  It permits restaurants to offer toys and other incentive items long as it is with food that meets national nutritional criteria for children. 
The ordinance imposes very specific, common-sense restrictions.  Restaurants cannot use toys as rewards for buying foods that have excessive calories (more than 120 for a beverage, 200 for a single food item or 485 for a meal), excessive sodium (480 mg for a single food item or 600 mg for a meal), excessive fat (more than 35% of total calories from fat), or excessive sugar (more than 10% of calories from added sweeteners.)  The criteria are based on nationally recognized standards for children’s health created by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and recommendations for children’s food published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM).
The Santa Clara County health system has seen rapid increases in children seeking healthcare for obesity-related problems at a cost of millions of dollars each year.  The County even created a Pediatric Healthy Lifestyle Center to address the complex medical needs of obese children in the county.
Childhood obesity is a critical public health issue,” said Dr. Sara Cody, Acting Public Health Officer.  “If we can help parents break the link between eating unhealthy food and getting a prize, we should.”
The ordinance affects all restaurants in the unincorporated areas of Santa Clara County.  Before going into effect, the ordinance requires a second reading that will happen at the May 11 Board of Supervisor’s meeting.  Restaurants will then be granted a 90-day grace period.  During that time, restaurants will be given the opportunity offer alternative measures to meet the goals of the ordinance.  If no suitable alternative is created and adopted by the Board of Supervisors, the ordinance will go into effect.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Taking on Big Soda over Taxes: Lessons Learned from Fighting Big Alcohol

This article of mine was recently published on the Corporations and Health website.

Since I started working at Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog group, in 2007 it’s become painfully clear that corporations have the same playbook. Whether it’s the food industry, tobacco, or alcohol, they all use the same talking points and lobbying strategies. While Big Tobacco may be most infamous for decades of hiding scientific evidence of harm and the deceptive marketing, all industries have similar tactics.

In my work at Marin Institute, raising alcohol taxes has been a primary focus of our policy agenda because we know that increasing prices is one of the most effective ways to prevent underage drinking and adult overconsumption. With soda taxes becoming an increasingly attractive policy option to help prevent diabetes and obesity, the soft drink industry is fighting back, and hard. While tobacco is often mentioned as the analogous issue, in fact, alcohol is more similar to soft drinks.

Besides the obvious (they are both beverages), alcohol and soft drinks each hold a special place in American culture. There’s nothing more American than relaxing with a Coke, or a Bud. Also, unlike smoking, which everyone (well, except the tobacco industry) can agree should simply be stopped, when it comes to beverages, the message is more about cutting down.

Here, I offer a few of the lessons that alcohol control advocates have learned from decades of fights with industry over raising taxes, fights that continue to this day.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

PepsiCo Triples its Chances of Hooking Teens on Gatorade, Targets their "Emotional Relationship with Sports"

Every few years, when sales decline in a flagship brand, the parent company has to figure out how to "refresh the brand" to re-boost sales and keep investors happy. Such is the case now with PepsiCo's Gatorade line, which has been in a sales slump for three years.

Invented in 1965 by University of Florida researchers, Gatorade is PepsiCo's third-biggest selling global beverage brand after Pepsi-Cola and Mountain Dew. So when its sales declined 14% last year, this was cause for concern on Wall Street. Enter "G" brands, PepsiCo's first in a series of marketing strategies aimed at reviving Gatorade sales. If you've been wondering what all those G ads were for, you're not alone. But odds are, you're also not the target audience.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Kick-Ass Shameless Product Placement - Eat, Drink, Shoot, and Drive (repeat)

In a previous post I called out Iron Man 2 for its over-the-top product placement and co-branding deals with the likes of Burger King and Dr. Pepper, but now it seems another movie deserves top honors as shameless promoters of all things bad for you. As described by Brandchannel, the new superhero parody, Kick-Ass (I am sorry to have to even type that awful title) hawks no fewer than 40 brands. Here's how some of the products break down into what's bad for you, bad for the planet, and/or can maim you or others. PepsiCo scores the highest for most brands under one corporate umbrella (5).
Beverages - 8: Amp Energy Drink, Aquafina, Budweiser, Clover Milk (arguable), Hi-C, Mountain Dew, Sierra Mist, Welch's
Junk food - 7: Count Chocula, Dunkin' Donuts, Honey Puffs, Hungry Man, Land-O-Lakes, SunChips, Twizzlers
Cars - 6: Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford, Ford Mustang, GMC, Range Rover, Rolls Royce
Guns - 4: Beretta, Glock, Heckler & Koch, Steyr (I had to look these up)
Sexually-exploitative dolls: Bratz! (OK, I made a special category for this, but they are awful.) 
I suppose that unlike with Iron Man 2, these movie producers could argue that there is no disconnect with superheroes eating and drinking and shooting and driving themselves into oblivion in a parody, but I still say given how popular this movie will be with young people, it's inexcusable. Yes, the film is rated R, but we all know how teenagers flock to R movies to feel grown up. But if these teens use many of the products promoted in the film, they may not get to.

What do you think?

Shame on Susan G. Komen - KFC's Pink Buckets are for Profits, not Breast Cancer

Ok, so since I don't watch TV, I am sometimes a tad behind on the latest marketing travesties. But thanks to free TV on Jet Blue airlines, I can catch up. So while traveling last week I saw the KFC ads asking me to support the breast cancer cause by purchasing a bucket of chicken. It was then I realized what I miss most about TV: the outrage.

Here's the deal: For every pink bucket of cancer-promoting, heart-clogging, animal-torturing fried chicken you purchase, KFC will donate a whopping 50 cents to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Even more disgusting, as the Komen website explains: "Names of breast cancer survivors and those who have lost their battle with breast cancer will be listed on the sides of the bucket." (Is that kind of like a war memorial?)

So I was happy this morning to sign Breast Cancer Action's petition to ask both KFC and Susan G. Komen to stop "pinkwashing" -- Breast Cancer Action's term for exploiting breast cancer victims in the name of charity. For the complete pinkwashing treatment, you really must visit KFC's Buckets for the Cure.

Then came back this lame reply from Margo Lucero, Susan G. Komen's director of  "Global Corporate Relations" (a bad sign right there), which first simply repeats the verbiage already on the org's website:
Thank you for your e-mail to Susan G. Komen for the Cure® – we do appreciate you taking the time to tell us how you feel about this partnership. You should know that our partnership with KFC is designed to help reach millions of women we might not otherwise reach with breast health education and awareness messages which we consider critical to our mission. This additional outreach is made possible through KFC’s 5,300 restaurants (about 900 of them in communities not yet served by a Komen Affiliate). This partnership also helps us to generate funding toward the nearly $1.5 billion in research and community programs that Komen has funded over 30 years – programs that are literally saving women’s lives through better treatments and early detection.
Next comes the excuses, and the troubling framing of food choices being a matter of personal responsibility, not to mention giving KFC props for providing "healthy" choices and nutrition "advice." (!)
Our partnership focuses on healthy options at KFC – grilled chicken and vegetables, for example. Ultimately, we believe that the decision to maintain a well-balanced diet lies in the hands of the consumer. KFC provides tools to make those choices, by providing a healthy choice menu and advice on its Web site on how consumers can limit fat and calorie consumption in its products.
In other words, we need the cash, so leave us alone. But KFC has the most to gain out of this arrangement. In addition to positive PR, the campaign will of course encourage more purchases, and 50 cents a bucket is well, just a drop in the bucket. Meanwhile, KFC's parent company, Yum Brands posted an impressive 10 percent increase in profits in the first quarter while revenue topped $2 billion.

You can sign Breast Cancer Action's petition here and find them on Facebook here.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

How did the American Dietetic Association get taken over by Big Food?

A colleague sent me this image of the tote bag from the 2008 American Dietetic Association annual meeting. Is it any wonder why Americans are confused about how to eat when the nation's top nutrition-advice professional group has been co-opted by the very corporations making people sick?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Iron Man 2: Junk Food Marketing at a Theater Near You

The opening of the next installment in the blockbuster Iron Man franchise may still be a few weeks away (May 7), but the promotions are in full swing. As Advertising Age describes today, the movie has attracted more than $100 million in media buys, retail tie-ins, and giveaways. Of the ten brands listed in the Ad Age article, five promote foods that are are not exactly conducive to Iron Man's heroic image. But who cares about the disconnect, with so many dollars up for grabs. And of course, with so many youngsters likely to see the film, the brand loyalty-building potential is key.

Here, as Ad Age describes them, are the five shameless product placements / co-branding deals:
A returning sponsor from 2008 (and a co-star in a key scene in which Robert Downey Jr.'s Tony Stark requests a cheeseburger that happens to come from the home of the Whopper), Burger King is upping its "Iron Man" marketing machinery this time around with a major company-wide push that kicks off April 26. The fast-feeder will feature an "Iron Man 2"-branded sandwich, the "Whiplash Whopper," and eight film-related toys -- four for boys and four for girls. A bevy of TV ads targeted separately toward adults and kids will roll out as well, in addition to a heavy online presence at 
Another repeat partner, 7-Eleven, is executing several marketing firsts on Marvel's behalf, including its first movie tie-in TV ad to promote its custom "Iron Man" straws, Big Gulp cups and other merchandise, as well as a Live Like a Billionaire Sweepstakes for The initiative will be supported with radio and web ads as well as a presence on 7-Eleven's in-store TV network.
Tony Stark sandwiches? Land O'Frost lunchmeats are back with a major two-and-a-half month push that will feature "Iron Man" sweepstakes, TV ads, print placement in major titles such as Family Circle and Ladies Home Journal and an in-store blitz that includes 10 million Land O'Frost packages and point-of-sale materials such as life-size Tony Stark standees.

Dr Pepper has already kicked off a three-month ad and retail campaign that includes 14 collectible cans and a series of TV ads featuring "Iron Man" creator Stan Lee. Mr. Fleming told Ad Age that "Iron Man 2" represents the brand's first big movie partnership since 2008's "Indiana Jones & the Crystal Skull." Even the movie's director, Jon Favreau, got with the program, posting pictures of the cans on his Twitter feed.


For its first "Iron Man" campaign, Hershey's is using its Reese's brand to engage fans in the Marvel universe, much as it did with Warner Bros. for 2008's "The Dark Knight." The peanut-butter cup is sponsoring a sweepstakes offering fans a chance to win a walk-on role in an upcoming Marvel movie, and is using "Iron Man 2"-branded packaging in the U.S. and over a dozen global territories. The extensive effort will continue through the end of September.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Lame response from Yale PR office re: PepsiCo / medical school deal

Here is what I received from Yale after I signed the petition at to ask the Yale School of Medicine to end its deal with PepsiCo, which I wrote about here and here.
Thank you for your recent e-mail regarding the Yale School of Medicine. Dean Alpern has asked the Office of Public Affairs to respond, since you refer to a recent news release which we issued.

The Yale MD/PhD Program is funded by many different public, corporate and private sources. However none of the donors can influence the content - or compromise the quality - of the program, which is considered one of the most rigorous in the country. For almost 200 years, the Yale School of Medicine has maintained the highest standards of academic and research integrity. The nutritional research conducted by Yale clinical scientists addresses important diseases including metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity.

Only through the generosity of our many donors can Yale School of Medicine continue to push the frontiers of clinical research and translational medicine.


Charles Robin Hogen Œ70)
Deputy Director of Public Affairs
Yale University
So let's write directly to Robin and explain that why this won't cut it.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Yale / PepsiCo Deal Making for Bad PR in Wall Street Journal and Yale Daily News

A few weeks ago I wrote about how the soda and snack-food giant PepsiCo had bought a piece of the Yale School of Medicine (my alma mater - MPH, 1990) by funding a "lab" and a fellowship program. Earlier this week, the Yale Daily News reported, "Critics fizz over Pepsi Gift." In that article, we learn part of the price tag for the sell-out:
These activists have criticized the soft-drink giant’s decision in December to sponsor a graduate fellowship in the school’s M.D.-Ph.D. program, worth $250,000 over five years, for students who want to perform research on nutrition and obesity-related diseases.
Really, only $50K a year? That's a pretty cheap price for a company that netted $1.7 billion in one quarter of 2009. If Yale is going to sell its good name, maybe they could negotiate a better deal than that.

But the price to pay may be higher in bad public relations. It's one thing for the school newspaper to raise questions, but today, the Wall Street Journal, the nation's most respected business voice took notice. In an opinion piece entitled, "Boola Moolah! Food Fight at Yale," Eric Felten writes:
PepsiCo is finding out just how hard it is to appease the nutritionistas. Two weeks ago the company was getting kudos in the New Haven Register for setting up a healthy-eating research lab at Yale's commercial Science Park; for putting a quarter of a million dollars into a doctoral-student fellowship in obesity studies at the Yale School of Medicine; and for agreeing to limit the calories in drinks it sells in schools. "World gets Healthier (Pepsi) Generation" raved the Register's headline. By this week the cola and snack conglomerate found itself getting smacked for the same good deeds. "Critics fizz over Pepsi gift" was the headline in Monday's Yale Daily News, reporting that activists are accusing the university of selling out for a few soda-stained dollars. Michele Simon, a Yale School of Public Health grad, was perfectly aghast that her alma mater would have anything to do with such merchants of death: "They own Cheetos, for God's sake."
Yale's School of Medicine dean replied soothingly that the arrangement is "perfectly ethical"—and there's no reason to doubt that. We aren't likely to see journal articles flowing from Pepsi Scholars documenting the salubrious properties of high-fructose corn syrup. 
The WSJ then hits the nail on the head: 
Still, Yale isn't quite as innocent here as the administration makes out. The Yale Bowl could be renamed PepsiCo Stadium and there would be no suggestion that the arrangement was anything but a mercenary one—a straightforward advertising deal. But the corporate naming game has different implications when it invades the tweedier precincts of campus. When a business gets its name worked into the academic fabric of a school, it is buying something more than a place to slap a corporate insignia. There is the implication that the firm is a partner in the intellectual enterprise.
What both papers fail to mention is that the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, frequently critical of Big Food, is housed at Yale, so it's hard to view PepsiCo's motives as pure. With this latest bad press, maybe the powers that be at both Yale HQ and the medical school will see how stupid this move was. It hardly seems worthy of one fellowship.

Also see how the Yale Daily Journal story got spun on the MSNBC web site in an article somewhat mis-titled, "Yale Takes Heat for Pepsi-Funded Obesity Study."

Please share these articles with others to help keep the pressure on Yale to end this ill-conceived deal. Also, email medical school Dean Robert J. Alpern and/or sign the petition at Thank you!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Why it's Time to Retire Ronald McDonald - my media statement

Here is what I said at yesterday's press conference / retirement party for Ronald McDonald:

We know Ronald McDonald is everywhere, especially where ever kids are. Why target kids? For starters, children under age twelve command up to $50 billion in direct purchasing power, and influence $670 billion in family purchases.

And McDonald’s knows that vulnerable children are the perfect advertising audience, since they don’t even know they’re being marketed to. Children under the age of eight do not have the cognitive capacity to understand that Ronald is trying to sell them something; they just know they love the friendly clown.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that “advertising directed toward children is inherently deceptive and exploits children under eight years of age.”
The First Amendment, which marketers often try to hide behind, does not protect deceptive advertising, which means McDonald’s is on treacherous legal ground and it’s only a matter of time before the law catches up to Ronald.
McDonald’s knows that brand loyalties established in childhood last a lifetime. Get them while they are young, and you’ve got them hooked for life.
But children aren’t just little adults. Their minds are still forming, making them especially vulnerable to the manipulations of marketing, and of course, their growing bodies need optimum nutrition, not Happy Meals.

But what about the parents, I hear all too often. After all, kids don’t drive themselves to McDonald’s or purchase those Happy Meals themselves. Any parent can tell you how difficult it is, after a long day at work, to resist the pestering, sometimes daily, by their children to take them to McDonald’s, usually just because of the lure of the toys, and of course, the clown.

And what better way to bypass parents and market directly to children than through a clown – the icon of circuses and children’s parties.

But parents have a right to raise their children in a safe environment, without constantly worrying about predatory corporate marketing. And children have the right not to be preyed upon by a clown with a corporate agenda. That’s why McDonald’s should retire Ronald.

Please visit: Retire Ronald to support this important campaign. Thank you.