An accountability evaluation for the industry's responsible use of brand mascots and licensed media characters to market a healthy diet to American children.
Corporate strategies that target children are controversial given the link between food marketing and childhood obesity. This case study explored diverse stakeholders' accountability expectations and actions for industry policies and practices that used popular cartoon brand mascots and media characters to promote food products to American children. We reviewed five electronic databases and Internet sources between January 2000 and January 2015. Evidence (n = 90) was selected based upon the Institute of Medicine's LEAD principles (i.e. locate, evaluate, assemble evidence to inform decisions) and organized into two tables: peer-reviewed articles, books and grey-literature reports (n = 34); and media stories, news releases and public testimony (n = 56). A four-step accountability framework was used to evaluate accountability structures. The results showed that moderate progress was achieved by stakeholders to take and share the account, limited progress to hold industry and government to account, and limited progress to strengthen accountability structures. Between 2006 and 2015, the U.S. Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative lacked clear policies for companies to use brand mascots and media characters on food packages, in merchandising, and as toy giveaways and premiums. Government, industry and civil society can substantially strengthen their accountability for these food marketing practices to ensure healthy food environments for children.
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