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Campaign Unveiled to Curb Unhealthy Marketing

May 5, 2014
Original Author: By Bay City News Service

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Kids are much more sensitive to and likely to be influenced by clever marketing of products like tobacco and alcohol.

Dr. Sara Cody

Santa Clara County Public Health Department

We’ve all heard that you are what you eat, but are you also what you buy? Some public health officials seem to think so.

Several Bay Area and public health agencies and the state recently unveiled a campaign based on the idea that people are only as healthy as the offerings at their nearest store.

The statewide “Healthy Stores for a Healthy Community” campaign relies on data released in March from a massive statewide survey of more than 7,000 retailers underlining the link between local store environments and community health, with a focus on health impacts on children.

Health advocates hope the findings reveal how easy it is for kids to find flavored tobacco, alcohol and junk food at their neighborhood stores.

The Ultimate Goal

The campaign’s ultimate goal is to promote community dialogue and make both stores and their customers live healthier.

Survey data shows that young people statewide and throughout the Bay Area are still targeted by tobacco, alcohol and junk food advertisers.

“As adults, we may have become desensitized to the unhealthy advertising and products in stores,” said Dr. Sara Cody of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department. “Kids are much more sensitive to and likely to be influenced by clever marketing of products like tobacco and alcohol,” she said.

Under the influence of that marketing, kids are often steered toward choices that can lead to hefty health consequences that include obesity, diabetes, cancer and heart disease, Cody said.

Survey Findings

Of the hundreds of Bay Area stores surveyed last summer as part of the Healthy Stores campaign, 83 percent sold flavored non-cigarette tobacco products within 1,000 feet of a school, according to the survey data.

About eight in 10 Bay Area stores sold sugar-laden malt alcoholic beverages known as alcopops, and some 52 percent of stores near Bay Area schools sell sugary drinks at checkout, the survey shows.

At a news conference announcing the Healthy Stores campaign in Martinez on March 5, Contra Costa Health Services director of Public Health, Dr. Wendell Brunner, gave a local example of kids’ easy access to small, flavored cigars called cigarillos.

Brunner said watermelon-flavored cigarillos are sold three for a dollar at a store across the street from a Pittsburg high school.

“I don’t think there can be any doubt that these products are being targeted at kids,” he said. “The candy flavoring makes the tobacco more palatable to a new smoker, and the price is right for youth without a lot of money to spend.”

Several youth volunteers who took part in the survey said that when they look beyond their school campuses for the nearest snack, the unhealthy options are the most readily available.

Low-income targeted

In addition, low-income children and youth of color are more intensely targeted by alcohol, tobacco and junk food marketers, said Kimi Watkins-Tartt, the Alameda County Public Health Department’s deputy director.

“For example, those of us who live in poor neighborhoods live an average of 10 years less than those in more affluent neighborhoods,” she said. “But we can change this…part of the change is understanding that harmful products are marketed and sold to youth, especially in communities that face multiple barriers to good health.”

Legislation forthcoming

Many Bay Area community leaders have already enacted legislation to curb access to unhealthy products, said Brunner and some are in the process of doing so.

The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors recently banned the use of e-cigarettes wherever tobacco use is prohibited and Berkeley city leaders are considering a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products near schools, he said.