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Sam Kass: “More to Come” on Food Marketing


Let’s Move Executive Director Sam Kass predicted progress is to come in the effort to reduce unhealthy food and beverage marketing to children — including some announcements from the White House — and encouraged Leaders to lift up the small successes that have happened thus far.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Inside Track during the recent American Heart Association Scientific Sessions in Dallas, Kass acknowledged that taking on unhealthy marketing is “really tough,” as the food and beverage industry rakes in billions of dollars each year via its advertising efforts. But Kass also noted that there have been a number of successes to improve food and beverage marketing to children, including the recent announcement that the Sesame Street Workshop will work alongside the Produce Marketing Association to promote fruits and vegetables to kids.

While still calling for change from the industry, Leaders should applaud and promote the victories that have taken place, Kass said. Those early wins will only lead to more change, the White House chef maintained.

“We’ve got to call out the areas that need improvement, and things that are happening that are undermining kids’ and families’ health,” Kass said. “But when someone takes a step, they’ve got to be supported. Otherwise, they’re not going to take a step.”

Kass also promoted the Drink Up initiative, an effort being led by the Partnership for a Healthier America to encourage people to drink more water. The goal of Drink Up is to bring the same resources, expertise and strategy to promoting water as less healthy beverages, Kass said.

“It’s an attempt to try to get water in the game,” he added. “We need to figure out how not just to educate what a healthy choice is, but to market what a healthy choice is, because marketing works. We know that, which is why companies spend billions of dollars marketing foods and other products — because it works.”

Drink Up is spun with a positive message about water, Kass said. While some public awareness campaigns have gone on the attack against sugary drinks such as soda, efforts to encourage healthier habits must be positive, he reasoned, adding that people don’t respond to negativity.

“If you really want people to do it, they want to feel good. That’s why marketing works. It makes them feel good, they have a positive emotional response to whatever it is they see,” Kass said. A lot of the negativity can turn people off, and I think, as much as it can make us feel good, it’s not necessarily the message that’s going to get somebody to make a different choice.”

Suzette Harris contributed to this report.