Editorial: Kraft gets smart on obesity issue

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An Oreo cookie is not the most nutritionally beneficial foodstuff. But Oreo's marketer, Kraft Foods, is displaying the management smarts to respond to growing public worry about youth obesity with some corporate introspection about its mix of products and how those products are presented through its advertising and marketing.

As we reported last week, Kraft's scrutiny of its advertising and marketing has, among other things, led to the withdrawal of a TV spot that depicted teenagers sprawled out in a living room and seemingly stuffing themselves with Double Stuff Oreos. It's not an image a newly sensitized Kraft is comfortable with. Other changes, big and small, may come in the days ahead because top management, in the form of Kraft Foods North America President-CEO Betsy Holden, has embraced the project.

That's a good sign. Public scrutiny and a critical media often either send marketers to their bunkers, hoping the spotlight will eventually shift elsewhere, or into a public posture of denial that the problem has anything to do with their companies or products. Instead, Kraft is trying to get ahead of the debate, setting the agenda for change among food manufacturers.

Kraft's acknowledgement of a "changing public-health picture" also includes adding healthier foods to its product lines and developing healthier versions of existing foods. Other food marketers can rightly argue there is room in a good diet for a variety of foods, including Oreos. But Kraft is also allocating millions of dollars to an education campaign aimed at giving parents more information on how they can help ensure children eat a healthy diet and get the right kinds of exercise.

Public discussion of obesity in America will continue, and Kraft will be stronger for getting its own marketing programs in order and treating concerned consumers-its customers-with respect and candor.

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