November 13, 2008

US companies spend $1 billion to make kids fat

Park Wilde in the US Food Policy blog tells us how the beverage and fast food restaurants spent nearly a billion dollars marketing sugary drinks and "happy meals" to our children. Even the Bush Administration's Federal Trade Commission is getting heartburn over these practices.  But don't expect action from the FTC or the companies themselves.

Wilde points out that the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, a Better Business Bureau project to forestall government action, can't get many of the top fast food chains to participate. 

Unfortunately, my opinion is we need government regulation. Because as we have seen for the past eight years, unregulated businesses will fleece Americans everytime.  Even if it means their own destruction. 

In July, based on information collected through federal subpoena, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) produced a detailed report on the massive extent of children's food and beverage advertising (see earlier post).

concurring statement (.pdf) by Commissioner Jon Leibowitz most strongly criticized two industries whose practices "leave a tinge of heartburn": the beverage and fast food restaurant industries.
First, the disproportionate amount ($474 million) to market sugary carbonated beverages to adolescents is striking – that’s nearly $20 per American teenager in 2006. The marketing efforts must be working; on average, adolescents get eleven percent of their calories from soft drinks. Studies show that those who drink more soda are more likely to become overweight. To their credit, the major carbonated beverage marketers entered an agreement with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and have committed to phase out the sale of full-calorie sodas in schools, shifting to lower calorie and more nutritious beverages. Wouldn’t a responsible next step be to extend this effort beyond the schoolhouse door, and curtail at least some marketing of full-calorie soft drinks to school-age youth – including teens – whether on television, via the Internet, in stores, or elsewhere?

Second, the big dollars to promote fast food restaurants to children are also somewhat hard to stomach: the $520 million for advertising and the toys included with fast food children’s meals was more than twice the amount spent by any other food category to target children under twelve in 2006. Some inner city low-income neighborhoods have numerous quick service restaurants but few grocery stores or markets that sell nutritious foods, so many of the children most at risk for obesity rely on fast food as a mainstay of their diets. Studies show that over-consumption of fast food likely contributes to overweight and obesity. I recognize that McDonald’s and Burger King are working to develop new, lower calorie menu items for children. But surely more can be done to add options to fast food menus and improve families’ incentives to order healthier choices.

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