Overlooked by the Obamas: Food Ads

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Mrs. Obama's campaign to prevent childhood obesity did not mention food marketing to kids. But check the latest research.

Researchers at UCLA took a careful look at the correlation between watching commercials on TV and childhood obesity (their paper is in the February 2010 American Journal of Public Health). Kids who watch commercials on TV are more likely to be obese than kids who watch non-commercial TV. Commercials, of course, are largely for junk food, and kids see a lot of them. The authors conclude:

steering children away from commercial television may have a meaningful effect in reducing childhood obesity ... The existence of many high-quality, enjoyable, and educational programs available on DVD for all ages should make it relatively easy for health educators and care providers to nudge children's viewing toward less obesogenic television content [my emphasis].

Relatively easy? They have to be kidding. Food commercials are ubiquitous in kids' lives.

For example, Lisa Sutherland and her colleagues at Dartmouth took a look at the prevalence of food brands (mostly junk foods) in movies from 1996 to 2005 (Pediatrics, February 2010). There are loads of such placements, and movies aimed at younger kids tend to have the most.

As for industry self-regulation, Kelly Brownell and his colleagues at Yale have plenty to say about how it's not working and what would be needed to make it work (also in the February American Journal of Public Health).

Michelle Obama may not be able to touch this one, but Congress can. And it should.

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Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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