Peter Jennings' latest special report, "How to Get Fat Without Really Trying" (on ABC Dec. 8), was a mainstream indictment of the food industry and advertisers who peddle junk food to small children. Of course, it's no real surprise that the U.S. doesn't regulate the amount and kind of ads that children, even preschoolers, see on TV day in and day out. Jennings spoke to an ad agency exec who said it was a parent's responsibility to limit a child's exposure to ads, not his responsibility to stop marketing sugary cereals and fatty snacks to the under-8 set. Of course an advertiser isn't supposed to take responsibility for a child, but what about forcing companies to stop performing focus groups on two-year-olds and purposely making commercials targeting elementary school kids. All the spokesmen said the ads are really for adults, but it's no secret that companies make commercials to add the "nag factor" to parents' lives. Everyone knows that if little Timmy or Tammy pesters mommy enough, she'll cave in and buy Reeses' Pieces cereal or super-sized, artificially flavored fruit drinks.
So what can we moms do about it? Well, unless we're willing to turn off the TVs completely, one answer, as simplistic as it may seem, is to buy and use a DVR. TiVO makes it possible to bypass commercials and get straight to Elmo, Dora or Lizzie Maguire. Children lack the ability to discern when ads are exaggerating or manipulating (of course, some adults can't do this either, but that's a whole other issue). So your kid will miss a few ubiquitous jingles or catchphrases ("they're GRRRRREAT!"), but ate least he won't be a slave to consumer marketing MBAs who schill their products to toddlers. The other answer is to make sure that your kid is involved in some form of athletic ability. God knows I'm a pretty uncoordinated twentysomething, and I can't help but blame my mom for thinking sports were for "tomboys." After dealing with weight problems for most of my life, I refuse to allow my child to get fat. It just won't happen. I've seen too many infants with soda in their baby bottles to buy food that will lead my son down the path to obesity. The occasional slice of pizza -- fine, but buying everything from Pop Tarts to chocolate-covered Teddy Grahams and happy meals every week? No way!