Child Obesity and the Need for Advertising Restrictions
Frameworks of understanding
University Of Massachusetts
Obesity in the United States has reached alarming levels in both adults and children. McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s dominate the scenery of modern most towns. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 2009, 2.4 million adults 20 or older had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher. BMI provides a reliable indicator of body fat based on an individual’s weight and height and allows medical experts to determine future health risks. In addition to the millions of adults who suffer from obesity related diseases, statistics for kids are equally frightening. The CDC estimates that 18% of people aged 12 to 19 and 20% of people aged 6 to 11 are obese. Unfortunately, the trend is moving in the wrong direction as child obesity has tripled in the past three decades to 17% (Seidman, 2011).
Obesity has become an American epidemic which requires immediate attention and a concerted public health response. In order to combat this growing health crisis, we need to attack it at the beginning stages. We must focus our efforts on child obesity and break the habits that lead to heart disease and diabetes. In prior years our nation has publicly declared a war on drugs. Is it time now to declare war on child obesity? If so the fight begins with one question: Should government impose regulations on food and beverage advertisements directed at children?
One of the nation’s largest companies has already answered that question with a resounding yes. In June 2012, The Walt Disney Company announced that it will impose new guidelines for marketing on its TV, radio and internet programming. Disney- along with First Lady Michelle Obama who has championed the cause for many years- has aligned their guidelines with federal dietary recommendations. The self imposed marketing restrictions are to take effect in 2015 and include limits on the number of calories in a complete meal. In order to qualify as an approved ad, traditional fast food chains and other food retailers cannot advertise meals that consist of more than 600 calories and a side dish in excess of 200 calories (MacVean- 2012). As it stands now, many fast food chains and beverage products will not meet the new guidelines. Disney's strategy is one that will hopefully spawn retailers to change food product lines to meet higher nutritional standards.
Disney’s initiative should provide a wake up call to an industry that for years has opposed regulations on advertising to children. Food and beverage firms have insisted that government intervention will not stall the childhood obesity trend. In response to industry pundits, the Journal of Law and Economics (2008) published a study which reports that a ban on fast food advertisements could reduce the number of overweight children ages 3-11 by 18 percent (Science Daily 2008). The study- conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) - also reports that a ban would reduce the number of overweight adolescents age 12-18 by 14 percent. The research is based on the viewing habits and caloric intake of 13,000 children.
So the question remains, should we allow government to impose advertising bans targeted at children? After all, we live in country where freedom of choice is celebrated. The unbalanced assault on advertising to kids does not however present a choice. A choice requires equal information with various alternatives. Approximately a third of the 6,100 televised food advertisements per year are for candy and snacks, a fourth are cereal ads and a tenth consists of fast food commercials. Only 5 percent are for healthy alternatives such as dairy products, whole grains and fruit (Gantz, Schwartz, Angelini & Rideout 2007). According to a 2005 publication released by consumer reports and the California Pan-Ethnic Health Network