The Obesity Threat Of Fast Food Ads

May 4, 2012 10:01 am

Should Washington regulate fast food ads?

Burger King Ad
Photo: ted_abbott on Flickr
Familiarity with this ad could be bad for your health.
 

Can you spot a McDonald’s a mile away, hum the Burger King jingle and identify the a red-haired gap-toothed girl as the Wendy's logo? Unfortunately, this is a game you don’t want to be good at. A new study conducted by the American Academy of Pediatrics links familiarity with junk food advertising to obesity. Meanwhile, DC has come under fire this week for looking the other way when it comes to Big Food lobbying; critics say that America’s children keep getting healthy doses of fast food advertising daily, and the government isn't doing enough to stop it. Things weren’t all bad this week though. The Senate did make progress on the farm bill, and the FDA released a new strategic plan to try to better prevent outbreaks of salmonella.

Obesity and Ads
This week the American Academy of Pediatrics announced somber news for all TV-watching fast food aficionados. Researchers showed participants ages 15-23 still images from television ads with the brands removed and asked them to identify the fast-food chain. Those participants who were able to correctly name the most chains had a significantly higher rate of being overweight or obese. The study’s authors state, “Even after controlling for the variables listed above, youths who recognized many ads were more than twice as likely to be obese compared with those who recognized few ads.” But, familiarity with the fast-food ads did not  mean that those people were running out to Burger King and McDonald's any chance they got. Instead, identifying the ads was linked to generally poorer consumption habits, such as eating while watching TV. America’s obvious obesity epidemic is receiving increased mainstream attention including the highly anticipated HBO documentary series — The Weight of the Nation — that will premier in May. Just make sure you don’t snack while you watch.

Washington on obesity
Last Friday, a Reuters report struck a nerve when it accused Washington of failing to combat powerful food industry lobbying and, consequently, losing the battle against childhood obesity. Between killing a bill that would reduce the amount of sugar, salt and fat in children’s food marketing and Congress’ infamous declaration that pizza was a vegetable, the article argues that the White House is doing little to intervene, despite the First Lady’s children’s health initiative, Let’s Move!. So what’s behind all of this? The authors Janet Roberts and Duff Wilson think it's simple: Big Food has more money to spend on lobbying. A lot more.

Fifty of the major food industry groups have doubled the money spent lobbying over the last three years (from $83 million to a jaw-dropping $175 million) and their ability to block legislation has been unstoppable. Roberts and Wilson quote Chairman of the Senate Health Committee, Sen. Tom Harkin, saying, “I'm upset with the White House. They went wobbly in the knees. When it comes to kids' health, they shouldn't go wobbly in the knees."

FDA Announces Strategic Plan
This week, the FDA vowed to keep our food system safer by providing swifter reactions to outbreaks of E. Coli, salmonella and the like with the new “strategic plan” for human and animal welfare. Of the seven goals outlined in the report, the most notable were “to provide accurate and useful information so consumers can choose a healthier diet and reduce the risk of chronic disease and obesity” and "improve detection and response to foodborne outbreaks and contamination” between 2012 and 2016. The FDA doesn’t give specific dates for when these goals will be implemented so until it does, we’ll keep avoiding any questionable spicy tuna rolls…

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