Advertising Make Us Fat? Yes!
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
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,
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
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
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
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.
Selling Junk Food to Toddlers
OP-Ed to NY Times by Michael Jacobson, Director Center for Science in the
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
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.
Center for Science in the Public Interest
1875 Connecticut Ave. NW #300
Washington, DC 20009
CSPI web site: www.cspinet.org
Breaking News on Food
Marketing and Retailing
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
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
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
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
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
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
Meanwhile, nearly one third of two
to 15 year-olds in England are now classed as overweight or
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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