Study: Ads Lead to Bad Eating Habits

Discussion
Dec 07, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson


A new report from the National Academies of Science’s Institute of Medicine says food marketers’ advertising on children’s television has influenced the eating habits of the nation’s youth, contributing to increased rates of obesity.


According to the research, the food and beverage industry spent about $5 billion on television commercials last year, most promoting high-calorie products with little nutritional value. Many younger children, in particular, are not able to make a distinction between the commercials and the shows they are watching.


The report, Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity?, calls for the industry to take immediate and voluntary action to “shift its marketing messages away from high-calorie and low-nutrition foods and beverages to advertising of healthful foods and beverages.”


Should food marketers fail to follow the report’s recommendations, the study’s authors said, “Congress should enact legislation mandating the shift on both broadcast and cable television.”


Those critical of the report said it lags what is taking place in the real world.


“This report is a compendium of existing research and most of its recommendations are already being done,” said Richard Martin of the Grocery Manufacturers Association. “The marketplace is already responding and legislation is costly, complicated and really not necessary.”


Moderator’s Comment: Is the food industry already responding to calls for it to market more nutritional foods to children? Where do you stand on the
need (or not) for legislation on this matter?

George Anderson – Moderator

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16 Comments on "Study: Ads Lead to Bad Eating Habits"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

Two thoughts – Why is the government getting involved? Where are the parents? Young kids are not buying the food; the parents are. It’s their responsibility to watch their kids’ diets.

Mark Lilien
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

If food manufacturers and restaurants had to follow the same rules as tobacco manufacturers, there would be no food advertising on children’s TV, no Ronald McDonald, no toys inside cold cereal boxes, no tie-ins with children’s movies and TV shows, and no food manufacturer PR material given out in the schools. The (previously) guilty parties would have to pay billions to the states, who’d use the money for nutrition education and nutrition advertising, in addition to health care funding for obesity and problems stemming from obesity. The nation’s health care system is paying for the increase in obesity. Poor nutrition starts in childhood and continues throughout one’s life. In many countries, advertising aimed at children is already banned. Perhaps preserving commercial free speech should be balanced by a 100% tax on commercial advertising and PR aimed at children, with the money to be dedicated to promotion of good nutrition.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

I expect to take serious heat on this one, but here goes. Well, we shifted how cigarettes can be advertised, and the world didn’t end. In fact, it cut down on youthful smoking and smoking in general. This wouldn’t be banning any type of food any more than we banned cigarettes. It would be promoting more healthy food, and less of the junk food. Why not? After all, parents don’t take responsibility anymore.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

The reports presented here do not identify the age of the “children.” Are these children actually purchasing their own food? Of course, they are influencing the choice but may not actually be making the choice. The report also says that advertising to children “is associated” with higher rates of obesity. That is not a causal conclusion. More conclusive data than this is necessary before legislating changes. Creating more marketplace pressure for advertising promoting healthy eating should also be tested before making changes.

Steve Weiss
Guest
Steve Weiss
15 years 2 months ago

Obesity monitoring is the scientific equivalent of religious fundamentalism. Pick something obvious that no right-minded person could possibly object to and build a belief system around it. Make it a simple issue so that the easily persuaded will hop right on board, and add liberal doses of vanity, humiliation and prejudice to keep them there. Most importantly, be close enough to the center of the action to make some money off of it. If I was a bear or an elephant and could type LMAO, I would do so.

Randy Kosloski
Guest
Randy Kosloski
15 years 2 months ago

Good discussion, but it really comes down to one thing: Parents buy food for their children. I am a parent of an 8 and 10 year old and while they do “find” many things via a commercial we, my wife and I, chose what to buy for them. In the end, if my children are hurt by the toy I buy or gain weight due to the food I buy and feed them it is my fault. My parents dealt with the same pressures and it is and will always be part of being a responsible parent. Deal with it.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
15 years 2 months ago

I am not a proponent of government intervention in the free market economy. For most of our transactions, consumers come together with a marketer and purchase goods and services. The introduction of the public policy maker into the transaction should only be done when the transactions have not been fairly balanced. As previous commentators have noted there is a real cost associated with more strict government controls. It is in the industry’s best interests to insure that the transaction is balanced so as to avoid the baggage brought by public policy makers.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 2 months ago
Warren, I’ve gotta throw you some of that heat on this one. The key difference between tobacco and fatty foods is that cigarettes have been proven to be harmful no matter how you use them. A Big Mac, on the other hand, has not. I can’t recall any evidence that a Big Mac, eaten occasionally as part of an otherwise healthy diet, is a problem. But we can all agree, I think, that eating a lot of crap is eventually a very bad thing. It’s hardly useful for the government, however, to point to advertising as the problem. The manufacturers are advertising what they make. There’s nothing wrong with being a candy manufacturer, and I don’t think it’s going to make much difference to require them to state “You should eat some vegetables, too, not just our delicious candy bars.” in their ads. I think we need to address more fundamental factors. We live in a convenience economy — more and more people serve prepared meals, processed foods, etc. The “healthy” alternatives to such foods… Read more »
Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
15 years 2 months ago

Warren knew he had it coming so it’s all good. I’ll throw in a couple of thoughts. First, where there is regulation, there’s always a way around it. Also, if our government feels it has the right to impose our will on the rest of the world, should it surprise anyone they will be deciding what we eat? If they could invade baseball, there are no boundaries.

Chuck Chadwick
Guest
Chuck Chadwick
15 years 2 months ago

Earth shaking news: Marketing works! Of course, advertising has influenced our children’s eating habits. Marketing has influenced all of our buying decisions. The food industry has been very effective in marketing products to the “decision maker,” which is really the core of the issue. The responsibility of eating healthy has been abdicated to the children and parents are seeking a scapegoat once again. The food industry has a role to play but it is somewhat limited as there is some evidence that the development of a low-calorie synthetic fat could actually increase the average weight because of the tendency of people just eating too much. Majority of the solution lies with the parents being parents.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 2 months ago
Interesting comments all around and no problem, I can take the heat. I’ll fight for the rights of smokers to smoke, and for the rights of people to eat any junk food they want to, all they want. The issue isn’t banning any kind of food. It’s about doing more to promote healthy habits when we have a real problem. I agree it’s a slippery slope, and we have to be careful, but I think intelligent parties could find a middle ground. I truly don’t think companies have to go out of business over this. They can keep making the same products. If promotion of more healthy foods leads to a shift in consumer demand, as I expect it would, no doubt these manufacturers will be smart enough to make new, healthier products to meet the demand. I think it is silly and wrong to expect manufacturers to start making “healthy” products when the market today isn’t, well, healthy enough to support it. I don’t take anything personally here, but the vehemence of reaction does… Read more »
Marc Drizin
Guest
Marc Drizin
15 years 2 months ago
Warren… Are you ready to tell the shareholders of these food companies why the value of the company has dropped? Are you ready for the employee layoffs that will occur as a result of a decreased share of wallet and decreased share of market? What about the communities that rely on the tax dollars from these manufacturers? The goal of any organization is simple… to stay in business. Food marketers market to children because it works, with nearly 40% of kids making the decision on “What’s for dinner.” This is an issue for the parents, who control the purse-strings, not for the legislature. I’m all for getting companies to voluntarily change their products to match what their customers want to buy, in fact we have seen that recently with the move away from trans-fat products. However, it is the economic marketplace, not the government which makes the change. And realize, the reason that cigarette companies were willing to change their marketing was two fold: first, they are a regulated industry deeply involved in an ongoing… Read more »
Joe Delaney
Guest
Joe Delaney
15 years 2 months ago

Wouldn’t government interference in limiting the proper and legal advertising of certain products to, in essence, replace the need for parental control of children’s eating habits, be a bad thing? Where does it stop? Why not prevent fatty foods from being served? Should we ticket and arrest the owner of the hot dog and sausage sandwich rolling kiosk for selling fat laden foods? How about we have the government force Sony to make PlayStation games only work after dark so that kids go out and get more exercise?

If people are concerned, the government could use the dangling carrot approach to get manufacturers and fast food eateries to provide healthy alternatives, provide funds to advertise (like anti-smoking commercials) healthy eating promotions and the like.

The Federal or State government could also ensure schools receiving government funding serve healthier lunches and snacks (if they aren’t already).

But to limit advertising or interfere in proper commerce? No.

Kevin Anderson
Guest
Kevin Anderson
15 years 2 months ago
I am glad we are spending our tax dollars to confirm what we already know – most kids cereals, snack foods, etc contain too many calories. I know there is a social issue here in that when our obese children grow up they probably will become obese adults with massive health problems and we will have a huge economic cost in the future. But where/when did we as a free society have the right to tell someone what to do? We have the power of our spending dollars to tell companies what to do and make, and oddly enough they tend to listen or get out of that business. Whose fault is it that they make these high calorie snacks? That’s right – ours. Why don’t they make healthy snacks? Because someone else already does (they are found in the Fruit and Vegetable section of the grocery store). So, is the problem with the ads that these kids are seeing that makes them want the product? Or is the real problem that we as a… Read more »
Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
15 years 2 months ago

It is time to rattle the Industry. But Government shouldn’t be the source.

The parents and responsible food, fast foods and beverage companies should take the lead. Kraft and Frito-Lay are two who have committed to the righteous cause. Importantly, the fast food industry must step up, or live with the onslaught of pressure by appropriate consumer groups! Hmmmmmmmm

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
15 years 2 months ago

Some QSRs have, in fact, stepped up. McDonald’s is practically the poster child for unhealthy fast food, but they now have several salads on the menu that aren’t bad at all, and they have done a pretty good job promoting them.

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