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D.C. Pow Wow: Does Marketing to Kids Trigger Obesity?

Posted Dec 19 2008 12:13am

Have food ads targeted at children played a role in triggering childhood obesity, which has more than doubled since 1970? Is the industry doing an adequate job at self-regulating itself? And what can food companies do to improve their advertising aimed at our nation's kids?

A government-sponsored workshop with the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services tackled these subjects at a July 14 and 15 meeting to focus on Marketing, Self-Regulation, and Childhood Obesity.

Since I wasn't there, I read the reports with interest. The Washington Post cited a new FTC study that found kids aren't watching as many food as they used to -- they're seeing 13 food ads a day versus 18 a day in 1977. Naturally, the American Advertising Federation seized upon the new study as evidence that food marketers are not to blame for the steep rise in childhood obesity.

But, Harvard psychologist Susan Linn, founder of the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, attributed the drop to the fact that advertisers are promoting their products via packaging, on the Internet in online games, and on popular TV shows such as "SpongeBob SquarePants," which "becomes a whole commercial for tons and tons and tons of junk food."
Linn noted that the advertising industry spent $100 million on marketing to children in 1983 but is now forking over $15 billion, a major portion of that on food advertising. (The Institute of Medicine, in a study released last year, puts the figure at $12 billion.)
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