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Childhood Obesity and Corporate Accountability

September 15, 2010

Table of junk food

Nobody wants to see the U.S. or any other country turn into a nation of blimps. Everyone agrees on that. But when it comes to the means of achieving a reversal of the childhood obesity epidemic trend, people start to have different ideas, and there is ambivalence.

BNET’s Melanie Warner regards Childhood Obesity Awareness Month with mixed emotions. It worries her that McDonald’s jumped right on board, and so did the American Beverage Association (ABA). If they like something, can it be good? Or is it just the latest in a long succession of marketing ploys?

Yes, we want corporations to step up to the plate, admit a share of responsibility for childhood obesity, and do something about it. But, as Warner puts it,

We’ve now gotten to the point where childhood obesity is no longer primarily a national health issue or a public policy conundrum — it’s a juicy marketing opportunity.

Giant corporations and associations are proven masters at turning everything into a juicy marketing opportunity. Look what they’ve done with breast cancer. And is a lot of this “awareness” cynical and self-promotional? Of course it is.

Warner isn’t quite so unkind, but a real curmudgeon could see bottomless hypocrisy in such behavior. A true doubter might say that when a food company shows up, crying “End childhood obesity!,” it’s pretty much like an arsonist volunteering to help put out the fire that he or she started. The pyromaniac gets in on all the excitement and shares the glory, but the building is still ablaze. We see it in murder cases, too, when the killer inserts himself into the investigation. For a sociopath, this provides a special kind of thrill.

Warner is not impressed with the ABA’s efforts. And McDonald’s? Don’t get her started! Why does a coalition of food companies rush forward to make ridiculous promises? Here’s an example. Really, can such a broad claim as this be anything but facetious? Warner says,

They’ve announced plans to collectively cut 1.5 trillion calories from their products…

Dr. Pretlow has written about other apparent conflicts of interest. When the high fructose corn syrup industry sponsors a meeting of the scientific Obesity Society, somehow that just doesn’t set right with him. The childhood obesity struggle includes some strange bedfellows. The Obesity Society’s president-elect didn’t get to be president because of his relationship with the fast-food industry.  Dr. Pretlow also mentions other ways in which things seem to be working at cross-purposes, like the number of obese physicians.

In a recent Los Angeles Times opinion piece, Michael McGough pointed out another kind of interest conflict. Awareness is now high about childhood obesity, and also about the ubiquitous problem of bullying. Fat kids get bullied more than anybody. Increased awareness of the childhood obesity epidemic gives bullies license (in their minds, anyway) to pick on fat kids even more. So we seem to have two major “awareness” initiatives in a head-on collision.

Dr Pretlow Gets Around:

At Live Lighter, Stephanie Miller presents a thorough review of Dr. Pretlow’s book, Overweight: What Kids Say.

Amy Roskelley, mother of three, and a Health Education graduate who loves food, is the author of the Super Healthy Kids blog. In another review of Overweight: What Kids Say, Amy writes,

Reading through their stories is literally heartbreaking! The pain that these kids are going through makes me so sad! Some of them feel so hopeless.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Childhood Obesity: The Food Industry’s Newest Marketing Ploy,” BNET, 09/09/10
Source: “Bullying in a good cause?,” Opinion LA, 05/03/10
Image by xand83, used under its Creative Commons license.

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