No question: Michelle Obama's initiative to end childhood obesity is timely. Today, about 17% of children 2-19 years old are obese and roughly 36% of adolescents and teens are overweight. Around 30% don't have family mealtime and many substitute stable dinners with fast food "meals" such as Chick-fill-a's chicken fillet with a "side dish" of, say, waffle fries.
No doubt, pairing two dishes of questionable nutritional value as a "meal" was the brainchild of some marketer. And, doubtless, they intended to alleviate parents of guilt about feeding their kids a fast-food fix and not the real thing. This gets to the heart of Michelle Obama's biggest nightmare: marketers have hijacked the food and fitness universe, derailing the attempts of policy-makers, nutritionists, and folks-who-truly-care to make real and permanent change.
It's important to remember that marketing is probably the single strongest influence in our culture. People encounter thousands of marketing messages a day: they're displayed at doctors' offices, embedded in movies, stuck on Web pages, slipped into bank statements, and reflected in blogs. Their influence has infiltrated our schools, clinics, kitchens, and stomachs.
In the food universe, the avalanche of marketing messages is chillingly one-sided: according to author and expert Michael Pollan, 95% promote processed foods. And, like all marketing messages, their power lies at a subliminal level. For example, marketers know that people respond to messaging pre-consciously, in less time than it takes to blink an eye. At the moment of impact, whether through a color, scent, sound or combination of all the above, the message triggers an emotional and visceral response in the audience: they feel happy, secure, trusting, aroused, or relaxed.