Should We Ban Junk Food Advertising?

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More than 1.4 billion adults are overweight.One of the biggest challenges the health industry faces today is the rise of obesity. According to the World Health Organization, obesity has doubled all over the world since 1980. Try to swallow these numbers: more than 1.4 billion adults are overweight, with 500 million of them being obese. And it doesn’t just affect adults, either. Every year, more and more children become obese too—this number hit 40 million children in 2011 alone.

But, unlike other health epidemics like cancer and Alzheimer’s, obesity is preventable. No one will deny that. But it takes a big change in your eating and living habits. For some, this can be quite the challenge. After all, it’s hard to resist a good stack of cookies or a bag of chips. That’s why some people are recommending that we ban advertising of junk food, especially to children, to help us take this matter into our own hands.

That’s certainly what the Ontario Medical Association believes, and what other organizations across North America maintain. In fact, they say we should implement the tactics used to prevent smoking to control the rising rate of obesity.

“Public opinion on tobacco control has dramatically evolved during the past two decades from a position of considerable resistance to many interventions, to attitudes in which smoking is no longer socially acceptable, and intensive regulation is seen as appropriate,” says the Ontario Medical Association. “(We) must ask whether any of the successful approaches to control the use and impacts of tobacco industry products can be applied to the control of obesity.”

It’s an idea that many governments are considering—especially in Ontario, Canada, where a new report entitled “No Time To Wait” was presented to the Health Minister last week.

“The manufacturers, advertising and marketing companies are bombarding us with visions of junk food in all the media… (It) sabotages our efforts,” says the report.

The report recommends banning the advertising of junk food to children and banning the display of high-calorie, low nutrient foods at cash checkout lines. Not only will it help reduce the rate of obesity, which has been linked to diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and other health issues, but it will also reduce the toll obesity takes on the economy. Obesity costs the U.S. about $200 billion a year, according to a recent report. That’s the cost of extra medical spending, hospitalizations, and prescription drugs—all money that need not be spent.

MORE: Is fast food getting better or worse?

But consumer advocates like Justin Wilson believe that banning certain foods is not the answer. “It is arrogant and absurd to suggest that Americans are too stupid to make their own food choices,” says J. Justin Wilson, senior research analyst, Center for Consumer Freedom, a non-profit organization that promotes consumer choice.

The organization spoke out against the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Medicine’s (IOM) new report, “Accelerating Progress in Obesity Prevention: Solving the Weight of the Nation,” which recommended that governments tax sweetened beverages and other sweets and create restaurant zoning laws. However, it also stressed the importance of increasing physical activity, and increasing the availability of low-calorie meals in restaurants, especially for children.

At the end of the day, they point out that if consumers want to eat sugary drinks or food, they will find them—so banning them only aggravates the consumers and focuses on things we shouldn’t be eating, instead of focusing on other healthy tips, like exercising.

“Increasing consumers’ options on menus and store shelves is the real key to curbing obesity,” says Wilson, “And not imposing one-size-fits-all policies that completely ignore the importance of personal responsibility.”

Indeed, just banning fast food advertising won’t encourage consumers to focus on making significant lifestyle changes that are necessary to cure this epidemic, like making healthier choices, choosing more fruits and vegetables, and implementing exercise in your life.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Ungar, R., “Obesity Now Costs Americans More in Healthcare Spending than Smoking,” Forbes April 30 2012;, last accessed March 7, 2013.
Munter, A., et al., “No Time To Wait: The Healthy Kids Strategy,” Healthy Kids Panel 2013.
“Applying Lessons Learned from Anti-Tobacco Campaigns to the Prevention of Obesity.” Ontario Medical Association Policy Paper October 2012.