Health-Minded Corporations Help Healthy Kids

By Beth Cline

Take a moment to think about the products the typical child sees in a day. Cereal and orange juice on the breakfast table, billboards advertising the latest toy on the way to school, soda machines in the hallways, ads for snack foods on TV in the afternoon, or pop-ups for magazines on the Internet. At the dinnertime, they are bombarded by everything from fast-food logos and salad dressing branding to frozen vegetable packaging. Even during free time, they see logos on water bottles and sports drinks, banners surrounding the gym or ball field and on tickets for professional sporting and entertainment events.

With the help of successful marketing campaigns, corporations influence children in on-going, calculated ways, with or without a parent’s consent. Now, in response to the growing childhood obesity epidemic, some corporations have decided to focus their marketing power for a greater good. They are creating more health conscious products and combining their efforts with community programs and resources – a great recipe for healthier children and families.

Some of the biggest household names are creating healthier products for children. Companies, ranging from fast food giant McDonald’s and super-manufacturer Campbell’s to soft drink leaders like Coca-Cola, are hoping to not only provide healthier options for consumers, but to educate children and adults on making better food and fitness choices. McDonald’s, for example, began unveiling a new line of good-for-you products in 2003. Since then, the company has been dedicated to overhauling the McDonald’s image as a brand that offers not only French fries and milkshakes, but more health conscious items like fresh fruit, salads and low fat milk jugs.

“As a global leader, McDonald’s is committed to encouraging our customers to lead balanced, active lifestyles by making healthy food choices and promoting physical activity,” said Robert Palmer, McDonald’s Regional Marketing Director, Baltimore-Washington Region. “We are constantly updating our menu to provide a variety of delicious and healthy menu options to consumers of all ages. For more than 20 years, McDonald’s has also sponsored programs that foster and teach the benefits of nutrition literacy, energy balance, and physical fitness, such as the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run.”

Manufacturer Campbell’s, best known for its soup, but owner of many other labels such as Pepperidge Farm, Prego and V8, created nutrition lesson plans for teachers and provides information for kids about exercise and fitness, endorsed by DC United’s Freddie Adu. In the Labels for Education program, schools collect Campbell’s packaging labels from students, families and the community. Schools then return the labels to Campbell’s, who then donates supplies and materials including those for physical education such as jump ropes, ab balls, soccer and volleyballs.

The Coca Cola Company proudly stresses physical activity and a variety of food and beverages. They introduced Diet Coke into widespread consumption and have recently added Coca-Cola Zero as another way for soda drinkers to get their fix. They regularly support athletic events, such as Special Olympics, promoting healthy, active living into the community.

PepsiCo created the Smart Spot Program, a green and white label on products designated as ‘good for you’ in order to help kids and parents make choices that contribute to a healthier lifestyle. These foods include low sugar cereals and oatmeal, lower calorie sodas and juices, and trans-fat free snacks. PepsiCo also includes an extensive section on their website featuring interactive materials for parents and kids on creating healthy habits.

With the help of corporations worldwide, parents can use these new products and resources to help educate their children, and create a healthy home environment. Here are some tips to get started:

• Take children on the next grocery store trip. Encourage them look at nutrition labels for calories and sugar.

• Instead of sugary sodas in the refrigerator, switch to fruit juices and bottled waters like those made by Coca Cola.

• Fast food should be a special treat, not a regular meal. Make it healthier by swapping fries for apple dippers in a McDonald’s Happy Meal.

• As a reward for reaching an exercise goal, take children to a sporting event to take exercise cues from athletes on a healthy, active lifestyle. Or sign children up for events like the MCM Healthy Kids Fun Run, supported by corporate sponsors, like Sodexho and The Washington Post, to enjoy fitness with other children.

The recent movement of corporate responsibility to the health and fitness of children is reaching further than just the food and drink industry. Recently, Time Warner’s popular station, the Cartoon Network announced a new promotional campaign and PSA series called GET ANIMATED. Using celebrity and athlete endorsements, they seek to stress three core values to children: getting active in exercise and sports, getting healthy by practicing smart food habits and getting involved in the community. Increasingly, the colorful clamor of corporate marketing has become more palatable to parents as a means to create healthier kids.

Articles in the Healthy Kids Series are presented by the Marine Corps Marathon Healthy Kids Fun Run to be held on Saturday, October 28, 2006. The one-mile run welcomes children ages 6-13. Registration is now open at www.marinemarathon.com . Beth Cline is the Public Relations Coordinator for the Marine Corps Marathon. No federal or Marine Corps endorsement implied.

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