National Geographic Kids Under the Corporate Thumb

Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

We picked up the recent issue of National Geographic magazine.

On the cover was an overweight person and the headline read, “Why Are We So Fat?”

What, you may ask, has this to do with geography?

Well, let’s say you mapped all of the junk food outlets in the United States.

Might that have something to do with answering the question on the cover?

Kelly Brownell, director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, thinks so.

She tells the National Geographic that “we live in a toxic environment.”

“It’s like trying to treat an alcoholic in a town where there’s a bar every ten feet,” Brownell says. “Bad food is cheap, heavily promoted, and engineered to taste good. Healthy food is hard to get, not promoted, and expensive. If you came down from Mars and saw all of this, what else would you predict except an obesity epidemic?”

Exactly our point of view.

Brownell would favor, among other cures, a law that would suspend food advertising directed at children.

Which brings us back to National Geographic.

When we picked up the National Geographic off the newsstand, out flew a promotional leaflet for National Geographic Kids (“a magazine for ages 6 and up.”)

Three years ago this magazine for kids was ad free. Now it is packed with ads for fast food, candy, sugary cereals, snack cakes and other junk food. And it reaches 1.2 million households.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reviewed 17 recent issues and found them to contain 51 junk-food ads, including ads for Twinkies, M&Ms, Frosted Flakes, Froot Loops, Hostess Cup Cakes and Xtreme Jell-O Pudding Sticks.

In one recent issue, the magazine printed a wrap-around cover, similar to the actual cover, promoting an Arby’s “Adventure Meal” that contains National Geographic Kids materials.

Each meal is “loaded with learning,” according to the ad copy, and “trusted by moms.” One of the meals depicted is fried chicken fingers with French fries, which provides 590 calories and more than half-a-day’s worth of fat and sodium.

“At a time when obesity, diabetes and other nutrition-related health crises plague our nation and especially our youth, it is unconscionable that the National Geographic Society, with its esteemed reputation and long standing educational mission for both adults and children, has chosen to cram National Geographic Kids with ads for sugary cereals, candy, and snack foods,” said CSPI’s executive director Michael F. Jacobson.

National Geographic Kids published few articles about food for kids to eat in the editions CSPI examined, including one with candy and cake recipes for Halloween.

Thirty to 40 percent of revenues for the kids magazine comes from junk food companies.

“We made a decision two years ago to include advertising,” says Carol Seitz, director in communication at the National Geographic Society. “We thought long and hard about it. We started taking ads. And as a result, we doubled our circulation. We are now at 1.2 million circulation, as opposed to 700,000. Taking ad revenues allowed us to improve the content, also market it to more people.”

Does she agree with Yale’s Brownell that there ought to be a law banning junk food ads aimed at children?

That’s Brownell’s opinion, not ours, Seitz says.

The magazine does not take tobacco or alcohol ads, so why take junk food ads?

All the kids magazines take these ads, Seitz says.

Seitz says that on the whole, parents have not raised concerns about the magazine taking junk food ads.

“Only one percent of our feedback from parents has been negative about the advertising,” Seitz told us. “We probably had only 20 people resign their membership over us taking ads.”

“Parents are the ultimate gatekeepers,” Seitz said.

So, it’s the parents’ fault.

Not the junk food companies.

Parents have a hard enough time filtering out the hucksters on television coming at their children.

Maybe they think that National Geographic produces a wholesome product for kids.

It does not.

Clearly National Geographic Kids is under the thumb of the junk food industry.

But it can be liberated.

We hereby announce a campaign to free National Geographic Kids from one of its corporate masters.

Let’s start by sending your thoughts to John Fahey, CEO of the National Geographic Society. Write to him at [email protected]

Or call him at (202) 857-7000.

Tell him what you think about the National Geographic Kids pushing junk food to kids.

If that doesn’t work, we’ll help organize a protest at the National Geographic headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. One step at a time.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, http://www.multinationalmonitor.org. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press; http://www.corporatepredators.org).

(c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

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