A small group of South LA parents, alarmed about companies advertising unhealthy foods to their children, has banded together to draw attention to the problem.
The parents recently roamed their own neighborhoods, shooting pictures of fast food restaurants, grocery store soda displays and candy at the checkout stand.
Virginia Parks, one of the parent-photographers, is a woman with a mission.
Virginia’s photos and those of other parents will be on display during a program focused on the marketing of unhealthy foods Thursday, April 23, from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC) Phoenix Hall. Speakers will talk about the dangers of unhealthy foods. They will describe the marketing that makes these foods so attractive to children and difficult for parents to resist.
The parent-photographers will be present, talking about their children, unhealthy foods and their experiences documenting the marketing of these unhealthy foods. The project, called PhotoVoice, enables parents to voice their concerns.
Virginia and the other parents are members of the Choose Health LA Kids Parent Collaborative. Choose Health LA Kids is a childhood obesity prevention program of the County Department of Public Health funded by First 5 LA and implemented by South LA Health Projects and 19 other agencies.
When Virginia’s 4-year-old daughter, Ashlee, entered preschool at the Children’s Institute this fall, Virginia joined the parent committee and attended a presentation by Choose Health LA Kids staff.
When Virginia learned the parent collaborative addresses the challenges of unfair marketing practices, joining was an easy decision. She says the main reason she got involved was “to try to change some things for the better for our kids. To give a voice for our kids. Being healthy is so important. There are so many illnesses. I want my kids to be around for a long time.”
Virginia also attended a Choose Health LA Kids cooking demonstration at the school. “I learned that it’s important for our kids, even for us adults, to eat healthy. I learned that eating lots of unhealthy foods can make people too heavy and can lead to diabetes and other illnesses. It’s important to stay active and to eat more fruits and vegetables. This came as a shock to me—what certain foods can do for you,” Virginia said.
Ads and toy give-aways for unhealthy foods upset Virginia. She and her children see them on TV and wherever they go. “The advertisements have them begging and bugging us parents for those foods,” she said.
Virginia took a number of photos. One shows a McDonald’s toy display encouraging parents to purchase Happy Meals.
“The toys are important to any child. This month there’s a new children’s movie called ‘Home.’ It’s about a girl and a little alien.” Virginia and her daughter saw the movie. “The next day the McDonalds ad was on tv. McDonalds was giving away toys shaped like a little alien. Ashlee sees the McDonald’s TV advertisements. The toy draws them in. “
Virginia has modest expectations for restaurants. “I feel that they should have at least more nutritious options. They should have some vegetables on there, maybe with some dip. We aren’t trying to stop what they’re doing; we just want them to add more healthy items. Especially for our children.”
Choose Health LA Kids’ overarching goal is to prevent childhood obesity through a variety of strategies. If the obesity epidemic remains unchecked, experts say, one-third of all children born in the United States in the year 2000 could develop diabetes during their lifetimes. Obesity can lead to other significant health problems as well.
In 2009, companies spent $113 million on packaging and in-store marketing targeted at youth. This did not include other forms of marketing, such as promotional signs in Little League fields; contests and toys marketing candy, foods and beverages; apps; company-sponsored “advergames” and more.
Companies spend nearly $1 billion annually on advertising in schools, on food and beverage packages, in stores and at quick-service restaurants.
To read more about Choose Health LA Kids, visit www.slahp.org/choose-health-la-kids. WLCAC Phoenix Hall is located at 10950 South Central Ave., Los Angeles 90059. To RSVP for the PhotoVoice event or for more information, phone (323) 757-7244 ext. 233.