Are food marketers to blame for obesity?

28 Nov

There are two extreme sides to the debate of whether or not food marketers are to blame for North America’s obesity epidemic, specifically in children ages six to 19 years of age.

Food Marketers Are Not Responsible

On one side is the food marketers themselves who claim they are taking adequate steps to stay within ethical boundaries in regards to the processes and content of their communications to the public. Food marketers claim that they are exceeding set laws and regulations even though it reduces their bottom line and all products marketed and sold meet set nutritional standards. Some of the steps that they are taking to protect society include openly labeling food and beverages with calorie counts, sodium content, and sugar content. By adding all relevant nutritional value, consumers cannot claim ignorance in regards to ingredients and content. As well, many companies such as Coco Cola have implemented health programs into their business strategy and have eliminated the sale of sugary drinks in highschools.

Food marketers believe that it is unfair to ban/tax “junk food” as it is a matter of personal choices and freedoms to choose what you eat. The obesity epidemic is in large part the fault of parents and other role models such as teachers, who should be demonstrating and enforcing healthy eating habits. It is argued that children are too young to decide what they should be eating and it is a parent’s responsibility to make the right choices for them. A six-year-old child reasonably does not have their own money to go into a fast food restaurant and purchase fast-food, their parents make that choice for them.  Therefore, it is up to the government to step in and educate people on what constitutes healthy behavior including eating right and the proper amounts of exercise. And up to parents and educators to instill healthy behaviors from a young age so that children are able to make the best choices for their health.

Food Marketers Are Responsible

 The other side of the argument is that food marketers continuously use deceptive labeling practices in regards to serving sizes where calorie count, fat content, and sugar content are labeled in ways that mislead the consumer. Fast food companies ensure that they are located in high-traffic areas and use excessive amounts of advertising ($4.2 billion a year) just in marketing to children. Average serving sizes at fast food restaurants have increased from 800 to 1100 calories per visit. These factors combined with the fact that fast food is consistently cheaper and more convenient than healthy food to purchase has led to the obesity epidemic.

The practice of food marketers promoting the idea that fast food and “junk food” can be a part of a healthy diet has mislead consumers as to what healthy eating actually consists of. Children are targeted from such a young age that they become addicted to fast food and continue the unhealthy eating patterns into adulthood.  All of this has lead to an increase of 4.5% to 7% in childhood obesity in children ages 6 to 19 years. The rate of overall obesity in America has doubled compared to what it was 30 years ago. Currently 25% of Americans are classified as being obese

 

My Conclusion

 It is a situation in which neither consumers nor food marketers can be single-handedly blamed. Parents play such a significant role in teaching and guiding their children as to what constitutes healthy eating and lifestyle and they seem to be failing in this respect more and more. The majority of parents choose the cheaper, most convenient way to feed their kids, which almost always includes fast food. This needs to be addressed through educating parents and teachers about how children should be fed and the negative effects of not having a proper diet. As well, exercise levels need to be increased because not getting enough physical activity plays just as important a part of becoming overweight. These are areas where parents and educators are responsible.

Food marketers need to cease deceptive labeling practices. Serving sizes need to be realistic and not mislead consumers into thinking the whole bag of chips is 300 calories when really only the 50 gram serving size (or 1/5 the bag) is 300 calories. Advertising directly to children needs to be decreased so that parents do not need to consistently battle with what their children think they want (based on flashy fast food marketing) and what they should be eating.

Consumers cannot entirely put the blame on food marketers because what you choose to eat is a personal decision. Food marketers should ensure that it is ultimately an informed decision and not a manipulated one.

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