• Sometimes saying please just won’t help

    It’s just hard for me to get overly enthusiastic about this (emphasis mine):

    Anti-obesity advocates are putting pressure on federal officials to follow through with tough voluntary guidelines for food marketing to children.

    Did you get that? The best advocates can do it to hope that we can get some tougher voluntary guidelines? If I were food companies, I’d laugh. Except that aren’t even doing that:

    Four agencies proposed stringent voluntary guidelines in April but have gotten strong pushback from the food and marketing industries who argue that the guidelines would infringe on their freedom of speech rights – even though they’re voluntary.

    We’re at a point where the food companies and ad agencies get to argue that voluntary guidelines are an affront to free speech. We’re not even talking about actual regulations or changes in policy. They’re offended that the government might just say “please”.

    I’m sorry, but this seems ridiculous. I have to say I agree more with the following sentiment:

    “Nearly everyone agrees that childhood obesity is a very serious problem in our country. However, allegedly ‘voluntary’ guidelines designed by government regulators to ‘protect children from junk food marketing’ will not get us one step closer to solving this epidemic,” said Michelle Bernard, the founder of the free-market Bernard Center for Women, Politics & Public Policy. “The smart government approach would be to provide private enterprise with incentives to increase access to healthy and affordable foods in underserved communities and educate all Americans about the importance of balanced nutrition.”

    Much better.

    • [begin satire]

      And those evil corporations are not content with making children fat:

      [end satire]


      Fat Pets Getting Fatter According to Latest Survey

      (Calabash, NC – February 23, 2011)
      Over Half the Nation’s Dogs and Cats Now Overweight Costing Pet’s Years and Owners Millions.

      I have been watching the PBS documentary on prohibition. It seems back then the drys, many of them progressives, wanted to blame the producers for alcoholism. They thought that laws were superior to voluntary. They were wrong. You just have to wait for norms to built against obesity. passing laws against “junk food” is folly. Voluntary is the best you can hope for.

      It is not those evil food companies. I am convinced that it is that life is physically easier and food is cheaper that is making us fatter and our dogs too.

      • So if you are convinced that cheaper food is part of the problem, exactly why isn’t that the responsibility of the food companies?

        Cheaper processed food that is heavily advertised is one of the driving forces. It’s one of the ways we can export our obesity problem to other countries and also explains why it is a recent problem. That said, the food companies do have a lot of support in the process.

    • I think some things could be done using “free market” principles. These would be things like removing subsidies to corn sweeteners and corn/meat production.
      However, I find the whole free market argument odd. A truly free market would allow anyone to sell any “food” (including contaminated and adulterated food) and let the consumer sort it out (if they could). Of course, this is absurd. You need regulations and once you have regulations you don’t have a free market. Why try to uphold this absurd idea of a free market and just admit that it doesn’t work?
      Strong government regulation is the answer. The free market is not.

      • I find the whole free market argument odd. A truly free market would allow anyone to sell any “food” (including contaminated and adulterated food) and let the consumer sort it out (if they could).

        No selling poison as food would be fraud. Of course Wine is grape juice that has gone bad and is contaminated with poison but selling wine is not fraud because everyone knows that it is contaminated, that is what people buy it for. With or without regulation contaminated food makes it to market.

        Further despite a lack quality regulation mostly when people buy marijuana they get marijuana.

        Strong government regulation is the answer. The free market is not.

        And despite there existing strong regulation against marijuana the market is providing it in abundance.

        And another thing the evidence that “junk food” is what is making us fat is very weak! Is it what is making our dogs and cats fat?

        And another thing I think the real reason for push up against obesity is not health but aesthetics. Fat people are not so pleasing to the eye. There are plenty of unhealthy things that we do not ban like riding motor cycles. Motor cycles are much more dangerous that Twinkies!

    • Where is the evidence that marketing is the most significant causal factor – or even a causal factor – driving increasing rates of childhood obesity? Is there anything stronger than a statistical association that shows up in high-level regression analyses behind these claims?

      How strong are the associations between exposure to marketing and obesity relative to those that correlate having a working mother and obesity?*

      No one is proposing that we mount a campaign against maternal workforce participation in order to combat obesity for quite a number of reasons, but in this case everyone seems to understand that this association is a marker for a much more complex set of variables and dynamics that would be difficult to address through state intervention, even if it was legally, morally, and politically feasible to do so.

      If anything, the evidence positing a strict causal relationship between exposure to marketing and obesity is weaker, but if anyone has any qualms about the validity of the association between childhood obesity and marketing efforts given the complex set of factors that determines what a kid eats and how much exercise he gets – they certainly aren’t evident in the formal academic commentary.


      • Here’s an interesting study that shows a direct link to marketing junk food and obesity.
        There are lots of similar studies. However, from reading between the lines of your comment, I think you want absolute proof which as you know is just about impossible. (Still no proof that smoking causes cancer.) It also looks like you have a pet theory having to do with mothers which is interesting but also unprovable.
        It may be immoral to intervene against maternal workforce participation but it certainly is moral to intervene against advertising junk food to children.

    • Mark:

      I’m familiar with the UCLA study, and also with its key limitation, which is that the kind of TV playing in a household isn’t an independent variable. The kind of family that parks their kids in front of Jerry Springer is vastly different than the family that parks their kids in front of Sesame Street, or that buys them educational materials produced by WBUR – and these differences translate into how they discipline them, feed them, how much time they interact with them, what kind of peers they have, what kind of school they go to, how often they get to play in a park, etc, etc, etc.

      If you really want to do something about obesity, which it sounds like you do – it’s worth trying to discriminate between causation and correlation. Fail to do that and there’s a good chance that you’ll be wasting money *and* – at the very least – delaying the point at which we actually do uncover these connections because we’ve mistakenly concluded that banning Count Chocula is going to have a meaningful impact on obesity when it won’t. Even if you posit that faith healers or homeopaths actually believe what they’re doing is beneficial, it’s not clear to me that their actions are moral since they’ve never established that what they do is actually helping sick people in any way.

      Finally – it’s also not clear that any non-toxic food is actually determinental to children in ways that are independent of the context in which it’s eaten. Like most of the people that I associate with, I grew up in a vaguely normal house where thinks like candy and ice-cream were the source of quite a bit of joy and happiness and had zero negative effects on my health because I had vaguely normal parents that exercised vaguely normal control over what I ate and when. Like virtually everyone else I grew up with, I was not overweight as a child.

      No amount of advertising is going to trump conscientious, competent parenting when it comes to raising non-obese children, and no amount of high-level policy interventions are going to trump all of the complex family and social dysfunctions at work in households that produce obese children.