Thursday, June 15, 2006

Fat kids, fat kids, whatcha gonna do

The Institution of Medicine (IOM), a branch of the National Academy of Science, has come out with a barnburner called "Food marketing to children and youth: threat or opportunity?" (You're urged to buy the text, but the entire text is online in multiple formats).

The situation is not good: we are a fat nation, and we're getting fatter. Depending on the metric you examine, things are twice as worse (diabetes and other obesity-related illnesses) or four times as worse (overall incidence of obesity)

Here's a chart of kids between 1963 and 2002. It's in the IOM report at page 42. Labelling kids as "obese" (dark lines) or "overweight" is relative to the Body Mass Index. Obesity is at or above the 95% point on the curve appropriate for the child's age and gender, using the Center for Disease Control data. Overweight is defined as the 85% to 95% portion of the curve.

In other words, 9% of kids in the 1960s were obese or overweight, but now it is over 32%.

Why? Well, it's true that kids are exercising less, they're watching more TV and engaging in low-calorie pastimes like video games, but that's not the conclusion of the report. No, kids are fatter because marketers are substantially better at persuading kids to eat bad food.

You don't believe me? Well, it's a 500 page report, but here's part of a short, angry summary from a doctor and public health specialist in the New England Journal of Medicine, called "Food Marketing and Childhood Obesity — A Matter of Policy". (She also refers to a CISP study).
Marketing to children is hardly new, but recent methods are far more intense and pervasive. Television still predominates, but the balance is shifting to product placements in toys, games, educational materials, songs, and movies; character licensing and celebrity endorsements; and less visible "stealth" campaigns involving word of mouth, cellular-telephone text messages, and the Internet. All aim to teach children to recognize brands and pester their parents to buy them. The IOM notes that by two years of age, most children can recognize products in supermarkets and ask for them by name.

But the most insidious purpose of marketing is to persuade children to eat foods made "just for them" — not what adults are eating. Some campaigns aim to convince children that they know more about what they are "supposed to" eat than their parents do. Marketers explicitly attempt to undermine family decisions about food choices by convincing children that they, not adults, should control those choices. Indeed, children now routinely report that they, and not their parents, decide what to eat.
I like capitalism; it pays my bills and it brings me shiny new toys. But this crosses the line of responsibility. Unfortunately, Congress is currently playing the role of drunk baby sitter, talking to her boyfriend, so there will be no adult supervision on this issue on the federal level until at least the fall elections. However, in quite a few state jurisidictions, the legislators have started to demand better quality food for children. Here's the NEJM companion article "Obesity — The New Frontier of Public Health Law" (This article is also free, although most recent content at the NEJM is behind a subscription wall.) As the article points out, another factor is all the lawyers who are saddling up and filing obesity-related class action suits. (It is hard to know who to root for in this arena).


Blogger Shotgun Toting Nascar Driving Jesus said...

It really is a disgusting situation we find ourselves in. The worst of it all is that the obesity problem is entirely preventable, but it has gotten short shrift among the national dialogue that it seems destined to not be addressed. Kudos to Clinton for getting rid of sodas in school, its a good first step, but more needs to be done. Of course between gay marriage, flag burning, debating whether or not we should declare that we will win the war on terror, and this administrations penchant for dismissing "science", i'd say its gonna be an uphill struggle.

Friday, 16 June, 2006  
Blogger Spider63 said...

Obese kids are sick and need help badly For a child to grow up obese is horrible. They never play outside, participate in youth sports, and they get diabetes and other illnesses.

Wednesday, 05 July, 2006  

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