Media Let Parents Off the Hook on Childhood Obesity

In an effort to quell soaring levels of childhood obesity, eleven food companies announced July 18 that they have decided voluntarily to limit advertising of “junk food” to children.

Instead of applauding, ABC World News Tonight, USA Today and CBS Evening News attacked the companies for not doing even more – while failing to acknowledge that parents are ultimately responsible for controlling the diets of their children.

Elizabeth Vargas on ABC World News Tonight piled on the companies almost immediately: “But as American children face an epidemic of obesity, will these changes really make a difference?”

Reporter Dan Harris interviewed a distraught mother who seemed unable to say no to her daughter: “It's difficult for me because she grabs it off the aisle. And she shows it to me. And she's like, 'it's Shrek. It's Shrek. I want it.'”

ABC followed its helpless mother interview with a short clip of a kid lunging violently at a Cinnamon Toast Crunch box suspended in mid-air and another of a pair of young eyes staring close-up at sugar-coated flakes dancing before her eyes. 

Harris flailed at “loopholes” in the new policy that will allow the ads to continue on primetime shows like American Idol.  And, “[w]hile Shrek will no longer appear in TV ads, he will likely still appear on the packages... Children's health advocates say, in order to make a real dent in the childhood obesity epidemic, the food companies have to do much more…”

CBS Evening News leveled the same charges, interviewing food industry critic Marion Nestle: “Oh, the loopholes are enormous. The companies have made these kinds of promises before.”

USA Today, while largely avoiding emotional attacks against food companies, still implied that industry is at fault for causing childhood obesity.  Reporter Teresa Howard sniped:  “But health advocates say the new guidelines aren't good enough.” 


The news reports cast parents who buy junk food for their children as victims of sugary seduction, expecting food companies to shoulder the full burden of America's child obesity problem.  But the kids know better. The testimony of a fit 10-year-old on CBS Evening News illustrates that parents can control their child's diet if they decide to take a little responsibility. 

10-year-old Sarah Martinez told a side of the story that ABC tried to ignore:  “Sometimes I see junk food and I get, like, very happy because I want it. But my mom says no and I respect that, because she's my mom and I listen to her.”

David Niedrauer is an intern at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.