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9 April 2012

American Industry Lags Behind in Tackling Childhood Obesity

Keywords: advertising, health, marketing, media, teens, television, North America,

Over a five-year period (December 2005 to January 2011), the food, media, and advertising industry only makes limited advances in stimulating healthy eating behaviors in American youth. A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine shows that food and beverage companies, as well as various marketing practice standard initiatives, took considerable action to follow the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to encourage healthier eating habits among children and teens.  

Take aways

  • Limited advances were made by the American food and beverage, media, and advertising industry to tackle childhood obesity. 
  • Only food and beverage companies and industry self-regulatory initiatives took actions to reduce marketing of unhealthy foods and stimulate healthy eating behaviors among youth.
  • There are still many opportunities available for industry members, such as joining self-regulatory initiatives, developing fair product labeling, and participating in collective efforts to promote healthy eating behaviors. 

Study information

  • The question?

    What actions did the American food, media, and advertising industry take to market healthier eating behaviors to children and adolescents?

  • Who?

    Focus on children and teens.

  • Where?

    North America.

  • How?

    A literature review was conducted between December 2005 and January 2011, consisting of 47 published academic or industry reports and 70 media, press, or news items. Based on this review, the extent to which the industry had taken action to follow the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to encourage healthier eating habits among children and teens was assessed.

Facts and findings

  • Food and beverage companies took considerable action. They:
    • offered healthier products;
    • reduced television advertising for unhealthy products;
    • placed health labels on products; and
    • joined forces to develop healthy lifestyle programs. 
  • However, food and beverage companies continued to promote unhealthy products to the American youth, using deceptive advertising techniques and health claims.
  • Several industry self-regulatory initiatives made considerable advances as well. They worked together with government and other entities to improve regulations regarding marketing practices directed at children and teens.
  • Hardly any actions were taken by restaurants, industry trade associations, and media and entertainment companies.
    • Many restaurants didn’t reduce portion sizes or offer healthier choices meeting the nutrition criteria and even increased their marketing activities directed at children and teens. 
    • Industry trade associations did not reduce the amount of unhealthy food and beverages available in schools.
    • Most media companies still had no self-regulatory rules to limit advertising to children.