Corporate Responsibility for Child Obesity

Fast food doesn’t make kids fat. Parents who buy fast food make kids fat. Right? Then again, what if you saw evidence that your industry’s advertising practices bore a causal relationship with the obesity (and, hence, the eventual illness and early death) of millions of children? Would it really be that easy to say, “Not our fault”?

From the Associated Press: Banning fast-food TV ads could dent childhood obesity

A little less “I’m Lovin’ It” could put a significant dent in the problem of childhood obesity, suggests a new study that attempts to measure the effect of TV fast-food ads.
A ban on such commercials would reduce the number of obese young children by 18 percent, and the number of obese older kids by 14 percent, researchers found.

Surely the child obesity epidemic is the result of a lot of factors, and TV ads are just one of them. Add to that the fact that advertising by fast food chains poses a ‘collective action’ problem: unilateral changes in advertising practices by even the largest chains might not have much effect, given that other chains are likely to a) buy up the TV airtime thus freed up, likely at a reduced price, and b) partly as a result, expand their own market share. If the entire industry were to act in concert, it’s much more likely to work. And the industry might want to do that — if not for altruistic reasons, then to avoid the kind of ban that the title of this story refers to.

Then again, there is some precedent for individual companies taking action. See this blog entry from 2006: Kudos to Kellog (Fewer Ads Aimed at Kids). In that case, Kellog was limiting the way it advertises to kids in order to forestall lawsuits.

5 comments so far

  1. Heberto X. Peterson R. on

    I think that the problem is not in the advertising, or if the parents buy or don´t buy these kind of food.. Why, if these food has effects like obesity, is permitted by the society or the government to be produced and commercialized ?

  2. Chris MacDonald on

    Heberto:Presumably the answer to your question is that many people enjoy those foods. The risks of such foods are obvious, and in a free society government can only go so far in protecting people from their own excesses. Many products can be abused, and we wouldn’t want government to ban them all.Chris.

  3. Suresh Kumar G on

    Rightly said, Sir. So the ball is in the court of the parents and the manufacturers. The parents should find other ways to show love to their children than regularly buying them these junk foods. It is a certainty that only regular intake of these foods leads to obesity in our kids. Many families limit their dining out to once a week. Similarly they have to assign limits to the amount of fast food that the kids consume. The manufacturers, as a part of CSR, do have a great responsibility in this area, in addition to reducing their ads aimed at the kids in particular.

  4. teeg701 on

    Rather than wishfully hoping for fast- food corporations to take collaborative onus for their child- focused, predatory advertising, McDonald’s as the largest fast-food chain should be stepping forward to lead this movement.

    Unfortunately, it is clear that MacDonald’s concertedly built an empire based on locating their restaurants conveniently within close proximity to schools and low- income areas; proving that McDonald’s obviously does not adhere to a very stringent set of business ethics to begin with…

    But, while McDonald’s has succeeded at undermining parental and educational outlets until now, it is clear that citizens are losing their patients with fast- food restaurants and their advertising practices, pushing to ban fast- food outlets from developing their outlets near schools and advertising before 9:00pm.

    We must all work to empower this movement against the fast- food empire by working with local grassroots organizations, as well as our state governing forces.

  5. teeg701 on

    Fast- food restaurants will not concertedly step forward to re-establish child-directed advertising standards. Instead, it is up to us, the general public to fight these corporations and stop them from siting their restaurants in schooling zones. I believe that McDonald’s as the largest and most powerful fast- food giant, should be setting a precedent in fast- food advertising ethics by redefining their marketing strategy as it relates to children.

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