Does Advertising Make Us Fat? Yes!

February 20, 2006 by Gary Ruskin

TALK ABOUT denial. After the Institute of Medicine issued a December report on food marketing and childhood obesity, the food and advertising industries sounded the alarm. "It's the height of chutzpah," declared the pro-business Center for Consumer Freedom,

"to call for sweeping federal regulations on marketing without having evidence to prove that advertisements cause childhood obesity."

Nice try. Problem is, the IOM study was merely confirming the obvious: that current food and beverage marketing practices put kids' long-term health at risk.

While Big Food and its advertising partners should be chastened, instead we get endless denials. Wally Snyder of the American Advertising Federation, is typical: "Advertising is not the culprit" for the rise in childhood obesity, he says.

Such misguided thinking is going to catch up with you.

In Europe, it already has. Markos Kyprianou, the European Health Commissioner, said last year that he "would like to see the [food] industry not advertising directly to children any more." He gave the industry a year to self-regulate, or he will push for legislation.

As the tobacco industry showed, it is possible to rope-a-dope the science for a very long time. But increasing numbers of Americans are on to the game.

Food giants wouldn't spend $11 billion a year on ads if they didn't get a payback. People see the commercials, and don't need a guy in a lab coat to tell them what piles of fatburgers and mega-gulps do to young bodies. But the more the industry stonewalls, the more it confirms parents' suspicions that it cannot be trusted, and that new laws are necessary.

Parents resent commercial interloping that involves their kids. It's outrageous that corporations pay for psychologists and hucksters to turn children into nags. If you want to sell something to kids, do so via ads aimed at parents—and let them decide whether a product is safe to buy.

Scores of top health scholars and medical groups have endorsed Commercial Alert's call for a ban on junk food marketing to children 12 years of age and younger as "perhaps the single most inexpensive and cost-efficient way to reduce the global burden of obesity, diabetes and their complications among children."

Let's look at soda pop. A study in the medical journal Lancet found that for each can of sugar-sweetened soda a child drinks daily, they are 1.6 times more likely to become obese. Another study in the British Medical Journal among children

7-11 years old found that those who were taught to drink less soda in school were 7% less likely to become obese than children who lacked such lessons.

Researchers writing in the International Journal of Obesity found that girls and boys who ate fast food three times or more a week had far higher calorie intakes: 37% and 40%, respectively, compared to those who didn't eat any fast food. Another study in the journal Pediatrics found that on any given day, children who ate fast food took in 187 extra calories than kids who abstained from such meals.

When ads boost demand for soda pop and fast food, should we really be surprised that childhood obesity is a result? No one claims that marketing is the sole culprit. Obviously, obesity is a complex problem with many causes. Everyone agrees that children need more exercise. But it's hard not to laugh when marketers boast that ads work—except for products like tobacco, alcohol and junk food.

Your denials are helping to generate a broad-based movement to restrict advertising to children, and ads in general. That movement is gaining strength, and you are pouring bacon fat on the fire.

Big Food isn't yet as unpopular as Big Tobacco. But since you're using the same playbook, don't be surprised if you end up where they did.

The federal government won't always be a wholly owned subsidiary of Corporate America and its army of influence-peddlers. Pent-up frustration arising from the marketing of tobacco, pharmaceuticals, junk food, alcohol—and to children in general—may well bring legislation or court decisions that put childrens' health ahead of profits and commercial speech.

It's time to concede the obvious: childhood obesity is a marketing-related disease, so stop marketing to children. Americans will respect you if you accept responsibility, and the consequences, for years of wrongdoing. Ignore this warning and you'll end up battling Congress and state legislatures, courts, school boards and town halls—a pariah, stripped of its privileges, and hamstrung in ways you may not yet be able to imagine.

Which road will you choose?

Gary Ruskin is executive director of Commercial Alert, Washington, a nonprofit group that protects children and communities from commercialism. Contact: gary@commercialalert.org.


Selling Junk Food to Toddlers

OP-Ed to NY Times by Michael Jacobson, Director Center for Science in the Public Interest

Published: February 23, 2006
For all the talk about protecting children in America, too many of our youngest are threatened by a steady blast of industrial-strength advertising on children's television. Some ads, like those for toys and games, mostly threaten the family budget. But the commercials hawking sugary treats or empty calories can be more pernicious. Many health professionals now fear that junk-food advertising to toddlers and pre-teenagers is contributing to soaring rates of obesity and diabetes among the young.

The Institute of Medicine, in a report last December sponsored by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that "current food and beverage marketing practices put children's long-term health at risk." It argued that the onslaught of commercials directed at such very young children can set bad dietary patterns for life. And children under 8 are generally defenseless against sophisticated barrages from the giants in the food industry.

Parents are the first line of defense, but it's tough to hold the line in the grocery store against the piercing whines of little ones when they spot a sugary treat sponsored by a favorite cartoon character. The government and the food and media industries need to help out.

The government, however, has barely noticed this problem. The Federal Trade Commission decided last year that the food industry should police itself on marketing low-nutrient foods to increasingly fat children.

Some companies, like Kraft Foods, appear to have gotten the word. The company has agreed to stop marketing such sweets as Oreos to children under 12. And networks that televise cartoons, including Nickelodeon, are trying to add more advice to the young on how healthy food and outdoor exercise can make you feel good, too.

But progress has been so slow that the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and two Massachusetts parents have announced plans to sue Viacom, which owns Nickelodeon, and the Kellogg Company. These advocates of healthy food have accused both companies of "unfair and deceptive" junk-food marketing to children under the age of 8. They have argued that high-powered ads aimed at children as young as 2 years old is "creepy and predatory."

It is not clear that a lawsuit like this can prevail, even in consumer-friendly Massachusetts. But the message should be clear. Americans pride themselves on protections for the young, but they're ignoring an issue that may be as important as car seats. With more than nine million obese youngsters over 6 in this country, it's time to stop encouraging another generation to eat wrong.

Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Center for Science in the Public Interest
1875 Connecticut Ave. NW #300
Washington, DC 20009

(o) 202-777-8328
(f) 202-265-4954
e-mail: mjacobson@cspinet.org
CSPI web site: www.cspinet.org





Breaking News on Food Marketing and Retailing




Kellogg advertising campaign turns sour

21/02/2006- Advertisements for Kellogg’s Coco Pops Straws have been referred to the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after a consumer watchdog claimed they were misleading to children and adults.

According to Which? the TV adverts are socially irresponsible, presenting the chocolate straw biscuit as a way of enticing children to drink more milk when in reality the product is unhealthy.

The advert’s strapline asks: “How far would you go to get milk into your kids? Well here’s an easier way…New Coco Pops Straws make milk more fun.”

But the Food Standards Agency (FSA) guideline states 10g of sugar per 100g is ‘a lot’. The straws contain 34g per 100g says Which?, over three times the recommended level. And although the suggested serving size on the advert is three straws, this would still provide 10.5g of sugar.

Which? chief policy adviser Sue Davies said: “This advert sends a confusing message about what is healthy and what is not to both children and parents. It is yet another example of the irresponsible and underhand marketing techniques used to push unhealthy food to children.”

The move comes as the watchdog campaigns to end the practice of marketing unhealthy food to children, and seems to be using the renowned cereal company as an example of reckless behaviour.

Davies said: “Kellogg’s claims that a 31g serving provides at least 17 per cent of the recommended daily allowance of vitamins and minerals. However there is no justification for encouraging children, through advertising, to consume a high sugar product at breakfast when the same vitamin content can be provided by other, healthier alternatives.”

And in the US the cereal giant, together with media conglomerate Viacom, will face a lawsuit because of it's marketing of junk food to children.

The foods marketed by these two companies are “directly harming kids' health,” claim two parents together with American pressure groups Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, who are filing the lawsuit.

And a Which? study published in the UK this January revealed marketing devices used to persuade children to demand high-fat high-sugar junk foods are undermining their parents' efforts to curb fat, sugar and salt consumption.

From ambiguous advertising messages to celebrity endorsements, food manufacturers are taking advantage of the government's discretionary marketing code of conduct, ahead of possible legislation that may be introduced in 2007.

Which? has written to Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt MP, calling on her to step in and prepare new legislation, as the voluntary code of conduct system continues to fail.

The watchdog has also kick-started a Kids' Food campaign for responsible marketing that is encouraging parents to get involved and pile pressure on the advertisers.

Meanwhile, nearly one third of two to 15 year-olds in England are now classed as overweight or obese.

And International Obesity Task Force (IOFT) figures released last March show the number of overweight European kids is rising by 400,000 a year, while in excess of 200 million adults across the EU may now be overweight or obese.

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