Obesity

The Twix Fix

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Masterfoods promises to stop marketing its candy, which includes Snickers, Mars bars, Twix, M&Ms, and Starburst, to kids under the age of 12. It's not clear what this will mean in practice, since it's hard to imagine an ad that appeals to 12-year-olds but not 11-year-olds, and grocery stores presumably will not be establishing age restrictions for the aisles and checkout lanes where Masterfoods' products are on display. The company may be hoping to forestall regulatory action (threatened in the U.K., among other places), but it will probably only encourage its critics by accepting their premise that children should be shielded from candy promotion while failing to deliver an effective shield.

According to the Financial Times story (available online only to subscribers), "The measure reflects mounting concerns about the links between advertising and childhood obesity." It's amazing how easily these "links" are taken for granted, given how little evidence there is that kids see more ads for junk food nowadays than they did when they were thinner, or that they like such food because of the ads, or that they are overweight because they eat such food. I can still recite from memory the jingles and slogans for candy, sugary cereal, snack cakes, and ice cream I saw when I was a kid, but they don't necessarily correspond to the brands I actually ate. And while I did consume a tremendous amount of crap as a kid, I was never fat, and neither were most of my friends, who ate diets equally heavy in foods of questionable nutritional value. Presumably that was because we burned off all those empty calories riding our bikes, playing tag, and climbing trees. Judging from my daughters, both of whom like candy even if they haven't seen it on TV, it is still possible to consume these products without getting fat. So I don't see how candy bars, let alone candy bar ads, can explain weight trends in children during the last couple of decades.

NEXT: Boneheaded in Boston

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  1. In the current climate, companies are obviously finding it easier to capitulate than fight in court, whether its Masterfoods or Turner Broadcasting. How this will play out is anyone’s guess (and yeah, I’d like to see one of these all-powerful evil corporations give the finger, but it doesn’t seem to be coming).

  2. Standing up to government is bad for a single business, but good for all businesses.

    Businesses should unionize against the government…

  3. What the hell are Uncle Ben’s Rispinos?

  4. Just once, I’d like to see one of these companies to respond with, “Thank you very much for your recent comments and suggestions. We appreciate your interest in our delicious and nutritious products, but at this time we cannot accede to your demands to restrict our speech on the basis of your oppressive and intellectually stunted ideological agenda and in response we would kindly ask you to fuck off.”

    Just. Once.

  5. Holy moly. The company I work for is owned by Mars Inc.

    We make a line of health food, marketed almost exclusively to the under 12 consumers.

    http://www.royalcanin.us/

  6. Surely this was in the realm of the reductio ad absurdum just a few years ago…? I hope someone can dig up damning quotes from people who called folks like Sullum alarmist. “Banning tobacco ads aimed at children is nothing like banning candy bar ads; don’t be ridiculous, that could never happen!”

  7. I was at a movie theater yesterday. They had some of those candies on display at the concession stand. Some of the movies at the theater are intended for children, and the kids have to walk right past that display on their way to the movie.

    Is that considered “marketing to minors”?

  8. Maybe they changed the ingredients in the candy bars somehow.

    It is also possible that this move is seen as maximizing profits in the long run, gov’t action or no gov’t action.

    If diabetes keeps going up, then parents can be expected to enact strong rules against candybars — treting them more and more like cigarettes as the diabetes rates approaches the rates of lung cancer and diabetes.

    Is there a way Masterfoods could haive handled this business decision that you would not see as capitulation to hypothetical gov’t action, Mr. Sullum?

  9. “treting them more and more like cigarettes as the diabetes rates approaches the rates of lung cancer and diabetes.”

    –treating them more and more like cigarettes as the diabetes rates approaches the rates of lung cancer and emphysema.–

  10. Perhaps it has something to do with the suffocating zealotry masquerading as parenting in this country.

  11. There are 23 grams of corn syrup in ten candy bars. 23 children are diagnosed every 23 days with diabetes. “Diabetes” has eight letters in it. Eight times three is 24, which is also a tv show whose star has 16 letters in his name. 16 times two is 32, which is just 23 backwards.

    Can’t you seee?

  12. It’s actually pretty reasonable to assert that they see more than they used to, since the average TV consumption has gone up, as has the average number of ads per slot. Proving a link is a step beyond that, however.

  13. Hey Sam! Glad to see you’re still kicking around…. I think JW answered your question to Sullum quite adequately.

    Don’t be such a stranger!

  14. Is that considered “marketing to minors”?

    Of course it is. Anything that makes children aware of candy makes them mind-controlled, bloated, diabetic monstrosities.

  15. given how little evidence there is… that they like such food because of the ads

    Are you saying that it’s a market failure for candy companies to spend all that money in advertising?

  16. “Steve Dallas (formerly of Deathtongue) | February 5, 2007, 6:06pm | #
    Perhaps it has something to do with the suffocating zealotry masquerading as parenting in this country.”

    OFF WITH HIS HEAD!

    [background voice] we can’t do that, Tippy [/bgv]

  17. Are you saying that it’s a market failure for candy companies to spend all that money in advertising?

    Ooh, nice one! 🙂

  18. clone12, even if the marketing doesn’t create the desire for sweets, it is a sucessful marketing campaign if it directs an existing desire towards the advertised products. The kid already wants sugar. The ad makes him want X brand of sugary junk.

  19. Are you saying that it’s a market failure for candy companies to spend all that money in advertising?

    The purpose of the ads may be to get kids to buy the advertiser’s candy rather than a competitors’. Maybe it’s encourage them to want more of it too, I’ll grant you that, but kids sure don’t like candy just because of the ads. Candy companies don’t have the kids’ welfare as their top priority, of course, but that doesn’t mean their ads are the only or primary reason kids eat candy. Hell, I’ve seen the women I work with give candy to their months old toddlers because they think it’s so cute!

  20. clone12,

    Not necessarily – candy companies don’t advertise to increase demand for candy in general. They do it to increase demand for the candy that they sell. In other words, he may be saying that they are spending money on marketing in order to capture a larger piece of a pie, the size of which they are not able to influence.

    Mmm . . . pie.

  21. Maybe it’s encourage them to want more of it too, I’ll grant you that, but kids sure don’t like candy just because of the ads.

    Since you granted my point, it is only fair that I grant yours… aside from the fact that I agree with you on this respect to begin with 🙂

    I guess my biggest point of respectful disagreement with y’all is with the efficacy of advertising.

    In a country where there are 100% cynical libertarians, a Chevy ad that resorts to flag-waving alone probably won’t sell a whole lot of trucks. But given that the ad campaign went the whole 9 yards, I think it’s safe to say the ad sold some trucks to the 97% non-libertarians tha makes up the general population.

    If adults are willing to buy cars based on nothing but nationalistic sentiments evoked by commericial jingos, why would 8 year-old kids not be swayed by dancing rabbits?

    This doesn’t mean commercials therefore need to be banned or regulated, but the simple fact that a lot of money is spent on advertizing is an indication just how effective they are, IMHO

  22. “Are you saying that it’s a market failure for candy companies to spend all that money in advertising?”

    Other’s have already made the appropriate responses, but I’d like to point out that even if the assumptions behind the question were true, ths would not be an example of “market failure.” It would be an example of an error.

  23. One company spending million of dollars for nothing is an error.

    Thousands of companies spending billions of dollars systematically on the exact same thing for nothing in return is a market failure.

  24. The measure reflects mounting concerns about the links between advertising and childhood obesity.

    Yes, it is a scientific fact that children never liked candy prior to the advent of advertising. Only nefarious corporate mind control causes children to desire sweets. My modest proposal is to blind the children so that their innocent little eyes are spared the horrid spectacle tempting them to their doom.

  25. Thousands of companies spending billions of dollars systematically on the exact same thing for nothing in return is a market failure.

    Unless you are in the business of selling ads. Then its a fucking gold mine.

  26. The Onion, August 2000:
    “The five-state class-action suit accused Hershey’s of “knowingly and willfully marketing rich, fatty candy bars containing chocolate and other ingredients of negligible nutritional value.” The company was also charged with publishing nutritional information only under pressure from the government, marketing products to children,…”

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/28407

  27. Shit, the Onion is now prophecy.

  28. “You must be this tall to eat this candy bar.”

  29. The Onion has been America’s unintentional prophet for years.

    Still waiting for the Bush invasion of West Nile, though.

    http://www.theonion.com/content/node/27720

  30. These health nazi lefties have to realize that all they’re doing is creating a whole new generation of black marketers. Can you imagine being a kid with a locker full of candy? You would have a goldmine, as long as you’re clever about it.

    Long live the Free Black Market.

  31. Still waiting for the Bush invasion of West Nile, though.

    Bush invading Sudan via the Red Sea isn’t far-fetched.

  32. Over the last several years, concerns have been expressed by governments and parents about the marketing of products to children.

    Mars believes it is important to listen to concerns and respond directly, in keeping with our desire to support the paramount role of parents in making purchasing decisions about foods on behalf of their children.

    We have therefore decided we will not direct communications about our core food and confectionery products to children under the age of 12, with the exception of our ‘better for you’ products which meet regional nutritional guidelines, where the cut-off will be nine years of age.

    Also, we will not participate in promotions primarily directed to children under 12, again with the exception of products we intend to develop to meet the specific nutritional interests of children.

  33. What kind of world are we living in where marketing candy to kids is frowned upon? Candy is for kids. Candy is one of the best things about being a kid, and they should be allowed to revel in all its sticky, gooey, sugary wonderment. I mean, their teeth are gonna fall out and get replaced with new ones anyway. And they should get enough exercise; otherwise all that candy might lead to unwanted weight gain.

    Candy and exercise: two great things that go together.

  34. being the resident antitrust libertarian, i would also point out that this wouldn’t be a big deal except for the fact that Masterfoods is so big.

    if you are interested in reading about some of the things that consolidation did to the candy bar market in the US, then I heartily recommend:

    Candyfreak by Steve Almond. It is mostly a book about old men (and a woman or 3) who run dying factories, but old men who run dying factories is a surprisingly interesting topic.

  35. “It’s amazing how easily these “links” are taken for granted, given how little evidence there is that kids see more ads for junk food nowadays than they did when they were thinner, or that they like such food because of the ads, or that they are overweight because they eat such food. “

    These things are taken for granted because they are painfully obvious to most people. Not that it’s the sole factor but if you’re disputing that eating lots of high-calorie food makes you fat then it’s kind of hard to take you seriously on your other points.

    Mr. Sullum’s post is Reason logic at it’s finest: “This is a problem that the government shouldn’t try to solve. There’s very little evidence that the problem is caused by what appears to cause it. Besides, it’s not a problem anyway. I mean, it wasn’t a problem in the past when the world was a different place. If people would just do things to solve the problem, we wouldn’t have the problem, etc.”

  36. These things are taken for granted because they are painfully obvious to most people. Not that it’s the sole factor but if you’re disputing that eating lots of high-calorie food makes you fat then it’s kind of hard to take you seriously on your other points.

    I think that the link being criticized is not the link between candy and obesity but the link between ads and obesity.

    I for one think that kids should eat candy. Lots of it. So long as they don’t spoil their suppers.

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