Subway's new campaign won't really teach kids about nutrition

subway sandwich
CC BY 2.0 Simon Shek

Just because Subway sells sandwiches doesn’t mean it’s healthy, but children don’t know that. Over the next three years, children in the U.S. will be subjected to a $41-million advertising campaign launched by Subway, in coalition with Michelle Obama’s campaign against child obesity. Their mission is to combat “unhealthy” fast food advertisers, such as McDonald’s, which spent $42 million promoting Happy Meals in 2012, compared to Subway’s relatively small $7 million. Subway’s new slogan, “Playtime: Powered by Veggies,” is supposed to get children excited about healthy eating.

Aside from the controversial problem of marketing directly to young children, it’s frustrating how a company such as Subway can get away with its healthy reputation. Sure, it’s a healthier alternative to a Big Mac and fries, if you’re on the road or in a rush, but those sandwiches are still a far cry from what we should be feeding our children. Deli meats laden with nitrites, processed cheese, insipid iceberg lettuce, white bread (there’s just one whole-grain option), and a plethora of sauces to be squirted all over the sub just as it reaches the peak of its limited nutritional potential – it will always be fast food, made with substandard ingredients, assembled in a rush by uncaring hands, and wrapped in multiple layers of wasteful plastic packaging that gets landfilled after eating.

Susan Linn, director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, suggests in an article from The Guardian that Subway’s better nutrition campaign, despite its efforts and (hopefully genuine) intentions for improving childhood health, “may be yet another tool for eating away at the core values of society.” By ‘core values,’ I’m going to guess Linn means eating meals together as a family, sitting down around a table, preparing meals from scratch, and using fresh, balanced, healthy ingredients – the kinds of core food values that I try to maintain with my own kids. Unfortunately those values have been seriously undermined over past decades throughout the U.S. and Canada, which makes it all the more important to defend them and attempt to reinstall them for the benefit of our children.

The last thing kids need is yet another advertising campaign directed toward their stomachs, training them from a young age to choose foods based on celebrity, not what’s actually in the package.

Linn explains, “We want children to develop a healthy relationship to nutrition and to the foods that they consume.” They will not gain lifelong nutritional knowledge from Subway ads, which is why I think the campaign is a sad cop-out on behalf of Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign. Children need education, and advertising is not education.

Tags: Diet | Health | Kids