Thursday, October 1, 2009

Advertising & the Obesity Crisis


While there is no proof that advertising leads to greater consumption of unhealthy foods, enough people believe that it does that calls for censorship, starting with the campaign currently running in support of high-fructose corn syrup, are on the rise. (Lazarus, 2009)

First amendment issues aside, there is proof, based on the broadcast ban of cigarette advertising in the 70’s that censorship efforts tend to backfire. In the case of cigarettes, the move of serious amounts of money from television to more cost efficient print resulted in greater product awareness and more efficient campaigns. (Calfee & Ringold, 1990)

Perhaps the answer lies in attempting to harness the strength of advertising in a positive fashion. VERB, the CDC’s effort against childhood obesity, which encouraged children to play with a ball, blog about their activities, and pass it along, generated impressive results. First year awareness levels were 74%, and both the amount and length of activity increased. (“VERB: CDC’s Youth Campaign, 2008)

Sadly, the effort was halted in 2006 due to lack of funding. Why not require the producers of high-fructose corn syrup to provide funding for the effort much as cigarette companies are now funding anti-smoking campaigns?

And while we’re at it, according to 9/30/09’s Wall Street Journal, fewer than 10% of US high school students are eating the recommended 5-9 servings of fruit and veggies a day. (AP, 2009) Sounds like a job for McDonald’s if you ask me.

What do you think?

Lazarus, D. (2009, September 30). Let’s limit our intake of corn-syrup ads. Retrived September 30, 2009, from,0,6909971.column?track=rss

Calfee, J. & Ringold, D. (1990). What would happen if cigarette advertising and promotion were banned? Advances in Consumer Research. Volume 17 pages 474-479. Retrived September 30, 2009, from

(2008, May 20). VERB Campaign Case Study, National Social Marketing Centre. Retrived September 30, 2009, from

Associated Press (2009, September 30). Kids Eat Few Fruits, Veggies. Wall Street Journal, pD2


  1. I truly believe that it calls for government intervention, yes these companies that have made millions on us; should now give back to save lives. There can be a tax paid yearly to give towards the advertising of the cause and effect of unhealthy food. If these companies were sued such as the cigarette companies, awareness would made available immediately. Thank you, Carolyn

  2. Companies that produce items which are empirically unhealthy, such as cigarette companies, fast-food, etc. should be required to fund some sort of awareness campaigns which would force them to inform the public on the bad effects of their products. However, these companies are also in the business to make a profit, so I do not think that a large portion of their budgets should be dedicated to informing the public of how unhealthy their product is. In my opinion, it would be most helpful if schools spent time educating and enforcing healthier diets for the kids that attend them. Instilling healthy eating habits in children from a young age will increase the possibilty of it staying with them throughout their lives. With the nutrition facts that are required to be stated on menus everywhere from Dunkin Donuts to The Outback, I don’t believe that advertising is the area that is lacking right now. Helping the youth with understanding what is already being advertised is what we should be focusing on right now.

  3. I do not believe that manufacturer's of unhealthy food products should be required by law to contribute to healthful eating campaigns. However, I do believe that their advertising should be truthful and not misleading. Perhaps FTC could regulate appropriate air times for products geared towards children. I also believe in personal responsibility and that ultimately individuals should be free to choose whatever they want to eat whether it is healthy or not.

  4. At the end of the day, these companies exist because there is demand for their products. Healthy or unhealthy, these products exist because people like and consume them. I think that manufacturers of unhealthy food products should provide their customers with nutritional information. I've seen several places put nutritional cheat sheets at the counter where they are visible to people when they order food. When it comes to advertising, these companies could direct consumers to where they can receive more nutritional information (i.e. provide a link to a website). Otherwise, I think that consumers are responsible for their own actions given that they have been educated enough on healthy diet and exercise. Schools for instance, should do a better job of helping to educate their students on the benefits of healthy food/drawbacks of unhealthy food). I also think that government-funded programs to raise health awareness are a good idea (healthier citizens benefit both the government and its people). People should know that one does not have to spend a lot of money to be healthy, and perhaps programs can do a better job of emphasizing this.

  5. First of all I have to say that if it can be claimed that there is no proof that advertizing leads to greater consumption of unhealthy foods, then what proof is there that advertising works at all? I believe advertising works, and that all successful companies, especially publicly listed ones hold some measure of social responsibility. Especially since many highly processed, unhealthy foods are often targeted at children.
    I think that at least part of the problem is the complicated messages that government agencies send out thanks to various lobbyist groups influencing their message. This is further complicated by advertising campaigns that market certain foods as healthy and nutritious when they clearly are not. Such as PepsiCo’s Smart spot campaign and American Heart Association’s endorsements on high sugar content cereals. I don’t know what the government run campaigns are spending on trying to get us to eat a healthy diet, but here are some numbers on what Kraft/Altria spent on advertising in 2003: Oreo Cookies, Nine million; Chips Ahoy Cookies, Three Million; Ritz Crackers, 17 Million; Wheat Thins, 18 Million. It’s no wonder why kids aren’t eating fruits and veggies, they are more likely snacking on Oreos.
    The issues behind food advertising are extremely complicated and I personally don’t think that advertising of unhealthy foods should be banned. I do however believe that the makers of extremely unhealthy products should bear some responsibility in educating the consumer, perhaps we can start with warning labels? Just imagine pushing the shopping cart down the snack isles in your grocery store and seeing all the bags of chips with a big yellow sign saying “ WARNING MAY MAKE YOU FAT and cause heart disease and type 2 diabetes consume with caution” – Surgeon General’s Warning