Regulating Food Marketing to Reduce Obesity

“Food advertising and marketing has helped convince the average American that it’s OK to eat lower quality foods more often and in larger portion sizes,” says Sujit Sharma in a CNN commentary. If we “learn from the war on tobacco” and regulate food marketing, can we make an impact on obesity? Sharma and a growing chorus of other advocates think so.

Growing Traction for Regulating Food Marketing to Kids

Canada is working on big changes in the ways food can be marketed to kids. Canada’s Healthy Eating Strategy includes limits on unhealthy food marketing to children. Quebec already has such restrictions in place and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is placing a high priority on expanding them to all of Canada.

WHO is promoting a similar strategy worldwide.

The influence of food marketing on children is becoming increasingly clear. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that:

Acute exposure to food advertising increases food intake in children but not in adults. These data support public health policy action that seeks to reduce children’s exposure to unhealthy food advertising.

A 2011 study in the Journal of Marketing Research adds fuel to this fire. The authors concluded that Quebec’s restrictions have led to less fast food consumption. The authors note that Quebec has the lowest rates of childhood obesity in Canada.

How Hard Can This Be?

In the American land of free speech – including free commercial speech – regulating advertising is no small task. Tobacco advertising regulation offers a great success story, but it’s not a simple one. Many pieces of legislation and voluntary guidelines came together to make it happen. The path was very bumpy. And tobacco is just one product in relatively few forms. It kills people when used as intended.

Regulating drug advertising has been no simpler. Everywhere you turn, those Cialis bathtubs are waiting for you.

Food advertising presents even more challenges. Food comes in so many different forms that it will make you dizzy. Producing, preparing, and serving food accounts for a huge portion of the economy. Defining healthy and unhealthy foods is not an easy task, as FDA is finding out.

Better norms for food marketing are clearly needed. But getting there will hardly be simple.

Chick here for Sharma’s commentary and here for a really comprehensive look at the challenge of food advertising.

Eat, photograph © Thomas Hawk / flickr

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May 7, 2017

3 Responses to “Regulating Food Marketing to Reduce Obesity”

  1. May 07, 2017 at 8:15 am, Al Lewis said:

    It won’t be happening anytime soon — look for sugar-labeling regulations now scheduled to be challenged and delayed. It will be a victory to keep what we already think is settled.

    PS I’ve never understood why there are two bathtubs. Is this is post-millennial version of Desi and Lucy having separate beds?

    • May 07, 2017 at 1:38 pm, Ted said:

      I don’t get it either. I just know the ads are annoying.

  2. May 11, 2017 at 10:38 am, Allen Browne said:

    Yup – the two bath tubs has been puzzling.

    But I would suggest using marketing. The marketers are smart and know how to sell things.