Obesity Is Not Marketers' Fault

Dan Jaffe over at the ANA's Regulatory Rumblings blog makes a concise argument, as we have before but with far fewer facts, that lays blame for obesity not on the action of marketers and advertisers b ut squarely on the shoulders of lazy-ass kids, their parents that let them sit on their ass all day long playing video games and schools which have drastically cut back on physical education.

We'll say it again. No one force feeds kids. While there's an over abundance of tempting, unhealthy food, McDonald's and Burger King don't inject food tubes into children to deliver their fatty, unhealthy crap. Kids shove it in their mouths themselves because they don't know any better. They haven't been properly educated to know what's healthy and what isn't. They haven't run a few laps around the school track becasue they don't have gym class anymore. They don't have to go anywhere because the Internet brings it all to them. And, their parents have let them spend hours in front of screens rather than going outside and engaging in physical activity.

Yes, Dan makes a far better argument. We just think kids need to get off their asses and everyone has to do a better job telling what to eat and what not to eat. Oh, and those ridiculously huge portion sizes at restaurants, one of which could feed an entire family? Yea, they could cut those in half, make twice the money and everyone would be healthier for it.

by Steve Hall    Mar- 6-06   Click to Comment   
Topic: Opinion, Research, Trends and Culture   

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I'm sorry, but I've seen this picture you guys use 1,000 times and I still don't know where it came from. I'm sure everyone here knows already, can someone please just catch me up? Everytime I see it I can't get it out of my mind. It scares the crap out of me.

Posted by: JM on March 6, 2006 8:22 PM

Advertisers shouldn't be primarily blamed as they have no control over the actual products being sold. They just help sell them against other equally unhealthy products. It's the food manufacturers that need to develop a conscience and not sell such oversized quantities of unhealthy food that is designed to be addictive through the use of salt, sugar, caffeine, MSG, fat and so on.

Posted by: UH2L on March 6, 2006 10:40 PM

Jaffe makes interesting points. But he also admits that food companies must do their part too. Whatís a little misleading is implying the food industry is doing a lot, or that the reduction of advertising aimed at kids is another sign of proactive progress.

Yes, Mickey Dís will introduce salads. But only after introducing triple-patty burgers and failing to change their trans fatty fries because they canít find a tasty alternative ó despite court orders to act.

Reducing advertising is a little misleading too. The food companies have simply discovered under-the-radar methods of hooking kids. Anyone who has ever worked on fast food knows advertisers are directing their messages at everyone from teens to toddlers, and theyíre filling school vending machines with their products too.

Donít mean to lessen the importance of personal and parental influence. At the same time, the forces working against parents and individuals are greater than you might realize. Certainly greater than what earlier generations faced. And for some minority communities, the options are not as vast, given simple realities like limited grocery offerings.

Some legislators have recognized the problems could lead to the kind of taxes and warnings already placed on cigarettes and liquors. And why not? Mickey Dís knows the dangers of its products just like Philip Morris.

Youíll probably scoff at much of what is written here. Admittedly, it sounds paranoid. But you canít deny the powers of the marketers we serve. At least not if youíre really engaged in the business.

Posted by: HighJive on March 6, 2006 11:02 PM

Advertising works - another version of "society made me do it." Jonathan Edwards anyone? These lawsuits have a basis in 18th century theology...not so dissimilar from the politics of today.

Posted by: Peter Kim on March 7, 2006 8:05 AM

To be clear, I didnít mean to imply this is an advertising problem. I also donít subscribe to the ďsociety made me do itĒ theories.

However, I do believe marketers and adfolks have ethical and moral obligations. The complexity comes from the fact that these things are highly subjective and difficult to regulate.

If we tax and regulate cigarettes, why not fast food? Hell, weíre already regulating advertising to children. Letís be honest. Mickey Dís is directing marketing to toddlers. Should we quietly sit by and let it happen?

My point has to do with the calculated and deliberate blurring of marketing and real-life.

Also, donít mean to heap it all on Mickey Dís. Theyíre just symptomatic/symbolic of the overall issue.

Posted by: HighJive on March 7, 2006 11:16 AM

Now THAT'S truth in advertising Steve!

Posted by: John Boy on March 7, 2006 11:43 AM

"Yea, they could cut those in half, make twice the money and everyone would be healthier for it."

Or, people could take responsibility for their own actions and eat only half of what is served, saving the rest for later.

Posted by: skigirl on March 7, 2006 2:08 PM

Gee, how COULD the advertisers be blamed for this? They're just doing their job, after all. And that's always a good thing, right?

Posted by: Bart King on March 7, 2006 2:13 PM

It's all of the above.

Let's not forget about the factually addicitive ingrediants that fast food chains use in their products. There is no difference between this and tweaking death-sticks to increase their usage. The public needs to know "the truth" about fast food. Maybe the Truth campaign needs to add another item to its menu (no pun intended).

Also, regulating fast food is right on. If Joe Schmo couldn't walk into a white castle and feed his family for a month on six bucks, then perhaps less fatty ass food would be stuffed down his family's gullet. That kid in the picture is fat, no he's huge, no he's morbidly obese because he eats like a pig, because his parents, guardian whoever allows him to.

Even if the grown-up doesn't understand the complexities of fast food and how bad it is for you; if you are feeding a kid certain kinds of foods, and he balloons into a mini-porpoise, common sense says STOP THE FAT STUFFING STUPID!

This is a national security issue. A nation of overweight, underproductive, fat eating, fast food loving spatula licking finger pointers will never succeed as an ongoing superpower concern in the world.

Posted by: John on March 7, 2006 2:30 PM

I'm a parent so what am I to do? These commercials are so influential! They make me give bad food to my kids. Am I even allowed to say no when they ask for Pop Tarts? And that Tanqueray guy? He's so compelling that I gave my daughter some gin in her sippy cup!

I'm so tired of people finding scapegoats for their lazy behavior. If your kid is obese, it's not because the commercials told him to eat. You fed him. Kids have eaten at McDonald's for decades. They only recently became obese. Let's blame the fact that schools can't afford phys ed programs. Are fast food and sugary beverages fattening? Sure. Is this a new thing? Come on.

Posted by: Michael on March 7, 2006 10:54 PM

Does anyone take responsibility anymore as opposed to fostering a blame culture? I'm always reminded that when you point the finger there are three pointing back.

Posted by: Dennis Howlett on March 8, 2006 8:11 AM

To give advertisers a pass on this issue is ludicrous. I'm not an apologist for personal responsibility, but food manufacturers and advertising companies are at least partly responsible for this epidemic. Read the book "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser. There's SO much money invested by the fast food companies in advertising, research, and lobbying. They add chemicals to foods that get people addicted to them, make them taste better, and make them less nutritional all at the same time. This is actually worse than what the tobacco companies did, adding nicotine to cigarettes to make them more addictive, because we need food to live. No one forces smokers to start smoking, giving the tobacco companies a chance to get people hooked. People have to eat, and I bet few people are able to grow all of the food they eat anymore. Then the big food companies inject chemicals that are as addictive as cocaine, that make us crave more of their product? And the lobbyists line the pockets of politicians that write laws that say they have to list all of the ingredients, but allow them list their laboratory-made chemicals as natural flavorings.

Yes, take responsibility for your own actions...but if you ignore what "Big Business" is doing in the food industry, you're just an ideologue.

Posted by: Greg on March 9, 2006 8:29 PM

The blame game's convenient. We're always looking for a boogeyman, a villain or a scape goat. Advertising/marketers may be the easiest target for Congress and parents (who'd rather let a TV or a computer look after their kids).

And while nobody's force feeding overweight kids crappy fast food, they know where to find it and what the latest limited time, exclusive, seasonal, offers are. Let's face it, we advertisers have a hand in the offering. We call it branding. We're selling "lifestyle" or "convenience" or "fun" or "entertainment" with an hip music sting and bleeding edge graphics. We don't make the choices for those chunky monkeys, but they definitely feel positive toward the brand they're stuffing into their mouths.

Are we just doing our jobs? Yup.

Posted by: Gerry on March 22, 2007 4:33 PM