The past few weeks have been busy ones for First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign. On September 12, the Let’s Move entourage traveled to Watertown, Wisconsin, to launch Drink Up, an initiative encouraging Americans to drink more water. The Washington Post observed that Michelle Obama’s “message will be nearly inescapable”; the Drink Up campaign is projected to rack up 1 billion media impressions.
A few days later, Obama convened a diverse group of stakeholders in food marketing—from parents and health advocates to government officials and food and beverage industry executives—and urged food and beverage companies to “do even more and move even faster to market responsibly to our kids.”
The First Lady acknowledged that food, beverage and media companies, “more than anyone else, have the power to shape our kids’ tastes and desires,” and though she stopped short of calling for government intervention to curb food marketing to kids, her comments make a powerful case for doing so:
You all know that our kids are like little sponges -- they absorb whatever is around them. But they don’t yet have the ability to question and analyze what they’re told. Instead, they believe just about everything they see and hear, especially if it’s on TV. And when the average child is now spending nearly eight hours a day in front of some kind of screen, many of their opinions and preferences are being shaped by the marketing campaigns you all create. And that’s where the problem comes in. You see, the average child watches thousands of food advertisements each year, and 86 percent of these ads are for products loaded with sugar, fat, salt. By contrast, our kids see an average of just one ad a week for healthy products like water to fruits and vegetables. Just one ad a week.
These strong remarks attracted an avalanche of media coverage. Large and local media outlets alike closely track Let’s Move and the First Lady’s every step, providing a steady stream of opportunities for advocates to build on Obama’s message and insert their perspective on the role of policy change to improve children’s health. Even when Obama’s message focuses on personal responsibility, as in the Drink Up initiative, or industry self-regulation of food marketing to kids, there’s an opportunity for advocates to steer the national dialogue toward the need for policy change.
Let’s capitalize on the visibility of Let’s Move and take the conversation a step further by emphasizing the role for government and industry action.
This week, we’re providing tips on how advocates can steer the Let’s Move conversation toward the need for policy and systems change, not just individual behavior change and industry self-regulation.
Mastering the “Pivot”: One of the core media advocacy skills we emphasize is “pivoting.” You can think about pivoting as rejecting the frame you’re handed and proposing an alternate frame for understanding the issue. For healthy eating and active living advocates, this usually means shifting the conversation away from personal responsibility and “choice” in favor of emphasizing the role of policies and environments, projected public health benefits, and local health improvement efforts.
• Q: Isn’t it up to parents to protect their kids from junk food marketing?
• A: Sure, parents have a role to play, but when food marketers have access to children in schools, in stores, on television, and increasingly on the Internet, parents have the odds stacked against them. It’s unfair to expect parents, alone, to bear the burden. Policies that limit the reach of junk-food marketing shift the balance in the right direction.
• Q: By joining the First Lady to support Let’s Move, aren’t food and beverage companies showing that they are part of the solution?
• A: Food and beverage companies may claim they’re on the side of kids’ health and throw their public support behind Let’s Move, but they’re still flooding children’s programming with junk food advertisements. In fact, food and beverage companies spend $1.8 billion each year to ensure their products reach kids directly. All children deserve access to healthy, affordable food, and protection from junk food marketing. We need to put children first--not corporate profits--and demand strong policies to limit junk-food marketing.
Using Let’s Move as a News Hook: Public health initiatives don’t get more high profile than the First Lady’s Let’s Move campaign. That visibility can also provide a way to highlight your community’s efforts to improve health whether you’re working to increase access to healthy food, put firm limits on junk-food marketing, or create safe places for families to play. Here’s how:
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