Do fatty food ads make obese kids? Yes. No. Maybe.

The Executive Vice President, Government Relations of the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) in the United States, Mr Dan Jaffe, has a blog where he posts opinions and commentary on ad-happenings. He also has a PR company who emails everyone who's anyone whenever he makes a new post in that blog, which I find really interesting. You don't just need a blog these days, you need a PR company as well in order to be really cool. Cooperkatz helpfully alerts me whenever Mr. Jaffa writes on about fast food ads and the rise of childhood obesity, I wonder if they ever read my earlier posts on the same topic. Jaffa writes in his post:

What is even more frustrating is that there is an ever-growing body of evidence that demonstrates that advertising is not a major factor in the obesity challenge that we increasingly face around the world. In Sweden and Quebec, for example, they banned all food advertising, yet their obesity rates are not lower than many societies that have no such restrictions and substantial rates of food advertising.

And yet again I must repeat the fact that the so called ban on advertising to children in Sweden does not exist, see the article Uninformed UK debate about childrens advertising marches on posted March 28, 2005. It's incredibly annoying that people are using this futile and fruitless "ban" as an example in their arguments.
Are they spreading disinformation on purpose or do they not know the facts I wonder. Which is worse?

The Food Fight Continues at Jaffa's ANA blog. Mr Jaffa, Executive Vice President of the ANA might have something to gain by downplaying advertisings effect on children and their food habits, he does represent ad agencies that make a killing on making these ads after all. Then again, the whole obesity due to fatty fast food ads hysteria might be just that, hysteria. Blaming the best bogeyman when in reality kids are sitting still playing computer games all day instead of being outside climbing trees like they used to. A lot of things have changed in our lives the past thirty years, our entire lifestyles. Blaming all childhood obesity on one single factor might be a tad naive, but I wouldn't be so quick to discredit advertising as some other commentators have. After all, I believe that with a few well chosen words and images I can make Saharan natives buy boxes of sand - I believe in the power of advertising or else I wouldn't be doing it. Screw the punters personal responsibility as they seldom take it, there are sheep out there who will do anything ads say. To say that people still have a choice is to indirectly say that advertising doesn't work. If that is what you believe, then why do you work in advertising? So if waking up with the King, visiting Ronald McDonald and watching snap crackle and pop dance around our cereal had no influence whatsover on the target market they aimed for, our kids - does that mean the clients can get their money back?

So what is the truth really? The experiment made by psychologists at the University of Liverpool that I wrote about here "advertising does work - on obese children" October 22, 2003, might have figured out what really happens when kids watch fast food ads.
Dr Jason Halford, Associate Director of the University’s Kissileff Laboratory, said: “Our research demonstrates the relationship between food television advertising and childhood obesity is not merely a matter of excessive sedentary activity. Although advertisers may disagree about the general role food adverts have in causing childhood obesity, it is evident that for children who are overweight, exposure to these adverts exasperates their already unhealthy eating lifestyle.”
You can download the full report Obesity in children (Word Doc). However, it's a very small group of only 42 children. Why are there no studies made on larger groups? Perhaps I haven't found them in the sea of articles about this.

Clearly there will be much debate about this for years to come, the fast food makers are the new tobacco companies, maybe in the future we'll see hamburgers banned from restaurants. So when you read a story on this subject - always consider the source. ;)

about the author

Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm.

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    Jun 07, 2005
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