The Epigenetics Obesity Dream

twin-boys

It has been known for a while that obesity can be a “legacy” passed on to succeeding generations, not only for genetic reasons but for epigenetic ones. We are born with an array of genes, but they predict our destiny only to a certain extent. The decision to switch genes on or off is often made by things that happen within our lifetimes, like exposure to toxins and consumption of certain foods.

For years, pregnant women have been warned not to smoke cigarettes, and one of the reasons is that smoking moms tend to have children with allergies. When those children grow up, even if they don’t smoke, they tend to pass along messed-up DNA to their own kids. That is called transgenerational epigenetic inheritance. It isn’t fair, but it appears to be happening anyway.

The further scientists inquire into the secrets of this new field, the stranger it becomes. As we mentioned, the sperm cells of obese men even look different from those of lean men. When a dad is obese, his kids are more likely to have metabolisms that are not correctly regulated, and even more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. One research team found evidence that women with obese fathers are more likely to get breast cancer.

The questions are so urgent because if we can figure out what is going on, as writer Bill Sullivan states, “a new wave of therapeutics could be developed that focus on reversing these changes.”

One-stop learning

The website WhatIsEpigenetics.com covers two fronts. It is basically two websites in one, with scholarly articles for professionals, and accessible, educationally entertaining posts for the general public. Most of them contain at least one sentence or paragraph where the writer encapsulates the significance of the research in an easily absorbed package.

For that website, Bailey Kirkpatrick wrote about the work done by scientists at the Max Planck Institute and their collaborators, noting that “new research is uncovering the possibility of an epigenetic switch that is, interestingly, either ‘on’ or ‘off’.” A group of researchers from several internationally renowned institutions did mice experiments and published a report suggesting that a network of imprinted genes can act as a switch to turn obesity on or off — but only once.

One of the group, J. Andrew Pospisilik, told the journalist:

Once the switch is triggered, it is a lifelong, epigenetically-driven decision that ends in a stable, either a lean or obese phenotype. Such clearly separated phenotypes have a genetic cause; here, though we found that the effect was non-Mendelian. The effect is akin to a light switch — on or off, lean or obese.

Applied to humans, this seems to indicate how there can be a pair of identical twins where one is lean and the other obese. Because they have the same genes, that shouldn’t happen. But the difference is epigenetic, caused by “the expression levels of TRIM28,” which is the designation of a certain gene.

Kirkpatrick says:

The researchers set out to see if the same pattern existed between obese and normal children. They teamed up with specialists in childhood obesity and analyzed adipose, or fat tissue, from children with these body types. In half of the cohort, results aligned with what they found in the mice.

This is all explained much more thoroughly in Kirkpatrick’s article, but the bottom line, as voiced by Dr. Pospisilik, is a hope that eventually “we can permanently flip the system back to lean in one shot.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Epigenetics: Feeding the Obesity and Diabetes Epidemic?,” WhatIsEpigenetics.com. 03/21/16
Source: “Epigenetics Could Turn on an ‘Obesity Switch’,” WhatIsEpigenetics.com, 09/06/16
Photo credit: ethermoon via Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

Letting Moms Off the Hook

toddler-with-dad

When John Lennon and Yoko Ono were anxiously trying to start a baby, legend has it that they sought a healer’s guidance, and followed a strict macrobiotic diet for months, and eventually Sean was conceived. The field of epigenetics offers an explanation for how something like that works.

As we have seen, genes are either expressed or not expressed, and something tells them to switch off or on. When our whacked-out inner chemistry messes with the genes, the DNA is disordered, and then it resembles a supervisor with no leadership skills, who can’t properly tell all our zillions of cells what to do. However, when people eat real food, and eliminate toxins and stress, less damage occurs and sometimes things happen that seem miraculous.

Science continues to learn surprising lessons about babies. Because the mechanics of gestation are so obvious and so culturally imbedded, the mother has, until recently, been assumed to be the only prenatal influence. Especially in the area of weight, mothers have taken the rap.

As it turns out, fathers are also accountable. It has been known for some time that epigenetic markers in a man’s sperm can be influenced by the amount of exercise he engages in. A couple of years back, Danish researchers discovered that obese men’s sperm cells actually look different.

Eric Boodman wrote:

Those differences might be tiny changes in molecular architecture, but they can determine how genes are switched on or off, and could potentially affect the behavior of any offspring those sperm produce.

Furthermore, it appears that a father’s life experiences can influence heritable epigenetic programming. In fact, inherited paternal epigenetics is now a field. For WhatIsEpigenetics.com, Bailey Kirkpatrick wrote:

Additional studies suggest a father’s obesity can impact his child’s likelihood for developing diseases like diabetes or experiencing abnormal metabolic regulation. They found that “paternal obesity is linked with hypomethylation at the differentially methylated regions (DMR) of the IGF2 gene.” This epigenetic modification leads to an increase in IGF2 proteins, which are, in turn, linked to obesity.

Kirkpatrick also wrote a post titled, “Overweight Fathers May Epigenetically Increase Their Daughters’ Risk of Breast Cancer.” The bottom line is, a father’s weight at the time of his daughter’s conception will affect her birth weight, and her weight as a child.

Not only that, but it seems that the father’s overweight condition somehow connects with the daughter’s breast cancer, later in life. The scientific team at the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center believes that paternal obesity also leads to other detrimental consequences for daughters.

According to current thinking, for true understanding of epigenetic influences on a child, it is necessary to consider each parent separately and also to study the interplay between them.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “A father’s sperm could predict whether his child will be obese,” STATNews.com, 12/03/15
Source: “Dad’s Life Experiences May Epigenetically Influence His Children’s Health,” WhatIsEpigenetics.com, 05/31/16
Source: “Overweight Fathers May Epigenetically Increase Their Daughters’ Risk of Breast Cancer,” WhatIsEpigenetics.com, 07/05/16
Photo credit: Donald Windley via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Rough Seas in the United Kingdom

titanic-illustration-miniature

After years of tortuous debate the U.K. instituted a tax on soft drinks and some other sugary items that will finally go into effect a year from now. What they do in Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales is worthy of attention for more than one reason, and it seems almost impossible to catch up with the cascade of events in the Queen’s neck of the woods. In the United Kingdom, the ferment never stops.

Like the USA, it is an English-speaking realm, and shares many of our characteristics, values and concerns. Unlike the USA, they are still thinking about obesity, and especially child obesity. Over here, we have way too much else going on. Since former First Lady Michelle Obama vacated the White House overweight children are far down the priority list.

For CityAM.com, Matt Crossman wrote a piece suggesting that investors might take a second look at the deadly risk posed by sugar and rethink their holdings in food and drink corporations. Crossman also found occasion to mention the U.K.

Enumerating the things that could actually hurt manufacturers, his words evoke the sensation of walls closing in. Science is catching up with the true threat posed by sugar; consumers and public health professionals are getting smarter; and the burden of cost to treat obesity-related disease increases every day.

Worst of all, the risk of litigation looms ever larger. Crossman says:

The UK is in the midst of a shift in consumer behaviour when it comes to eating “well,” with sugar intake at the very front of people’s minds. But beyond notoriously fickle consumer tastes there is a growing awareness of the massive cost burden imposed on healthcare services by poor diets.

He also observed that the U.K. government’s strategy to combat childhood obesity was greeted with a lack of enthusiasm, and is widely considered to be a dud. The long-awaited “Childhood obesity: a plan for action” was published in August of 2016 to resounding disappointment in many quarters.

Childhood Obesity News noted that when the report came out doctors took to the pages of the British Medical Journal to express their chagrin at how the original 50-page draft, that had seemed to hold the promise of actual change, had shrunk to 10 toothless pages.

Obesity researcher Dr. Zoe Harcombe pounced on it, finding something objectionable before the body of the report even started:

Disappointingly, the introduction then moved straight to the classic misrepresentation of obesity “obesity is caused by an energy imbalance: taking in more energy through food than we use through activity.” Worse, it then played beautifully into the big food companies’ hands by emphasising the activity part of the “eat less do more” erroneous message…

The 14-point action plan did not fare much better in her esteem. The first part addressed the upcoming soft drinks levy, or tax, with language that started out weak and seemed vulnerable to further enfeeblement before the law could even be passed. Part 3 was titled “Supporting innovation to help businesses to make their products healthier,” and talked about encouraging science and technology and industry to “create” healthier products.

To which Harcombe sarcastically replied:

We won’t even mention real food in this entire report, or encourage consumption of real food. Instead we’ll support the invention of fake food in laboratories. You couldn’t make this up.

But wait, it gets worse. She characterized Point 4 as “moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The deadly risk of sugar: It’s time investors reassessed food and drinks companies,” CityAM.com, 03/15/17
Source: “UK Childhood Obesity ‘Strategy’,” ZoeHarcombe.com, 08/22/16
Photo credit: sammydavisdog via Visualhunt/CC BY

Significant Developments in Treating Obesity

conference-schedule

Last month at the Global Conference on Obesity Treatment and Weight Management, Dr. Pretlow conducted a two-hour workshop on “Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model.” He says:

I will be conducting a similar workshop on Tuesday for a streaming conference out of the UK. Our 90-min symposium submission on this topic was accepted by the World Congress of Psychiatry in Berlin in October. There appears to be significant new interest in this topic.

This last sentence is an understatement. The idea of treating obesity by using the addiction model is catching on. At this same gathering, speakers delved into such related topics as pedagogy; lifestyle management; binge eating; weight loss maintenance; mental programming; eating behaviors; hormones; diabetes; the gut microbiome; emotionally struggling adolescents; the brain; bariatric surgery; and more. Directly or tangentially, many areas of expertise impinge on the territory of compulsive overeating.

The presentation

The “Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model” presentation reminds the audience of the Early Bird Diabetes study, one of the first to suspect that “Physical inactivity appears to be the result of fatness rather than its cause.” Dr. Pretlow mentions again that 68% of his survey respondents said they have overdosed on healthy eating information.

Treatments that work are bariatric surgery and residential immersion programs, aka rehab centers. Both are expensive and time-consuming; neither can guarantee sustained long-term success. Evidence accumulates, indicating that the overeating that leads to obesity is an addictive process.

Slide 14 begins with the story of two groups of genetically identical rats. When researchers placed hyperpalatable foods on the far side of an electrified floor, the obese rats who were already hooked on the stuff went right ahead and endured the pain to get it. (We have all known people like that.)

“Something had changed in these obese rats, presumably something in their brains.” But the ones raised on plain rat chow did not volunteer for shocked feet, not even for a high-pleasure reward. Many of us want to become people like that.

But other rat studies showed other different and interesting things. Dr. Pretlow suggests that the substance might be beside the point, as overeating addiction might just boil down to the two components, comfort eating (sensory addiction) and nervous eating (motor addiction). He talks about body hunger versus brain hunger. Brain hunger is an emotion, an illusion, a promise of pain relief that can only be kept in the very short term, and is always broken in the long term.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Global Conference on Obesity Treatment and Weight Management,” ScientOnline.org, 03/20/17
Source: “Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model,” Weigh2Rock.com, March 2017
Image by Global Conference on Obesity Treatment and Weight Management

The Universality of Addiction

aleister-crowley-portrait

Many health professionals believe that all addictions are one. The addictive personality will latch onto whatever addictor is most convenient, and, lately, for a large part of the world, that has been food.

At this point, opinion goes both ways. There is plenty of evidence that hyperpalatable foods are purposely engineered to be addictive. But is overeating a substance addiction? A mass of evidence points to overeating as a behavioral addiction. Probably, like so many other things, it’s on a spectrum, depending on the person and the environment.

The similarities that many seemingly different addictions have in common are astonishing. The ingenious human brain is always ready with a rationalization for anything it wants to do, especially when what it wants to do is pursue a substance or a behavior that will temporarily ease existential pain.

Here, from a well-known writer, are a few examples of junkie logic:

I must be at my very best to do what I have to do. If I can bring that off, I need never take it again.

I must show I am master of it — free to say either “yes” or “no.” And I must be perfectly sure by saying “yes” at this moment.

I am feeling very, very rotten and a very, very little would make me feel so very, very good…

Those quotations are from The Diary of a Drug Fiend by Aleister Crowley. He was talking about heroin, and Robert Anton Wilson said of him:

Crowley has great understanding of the addict mentality and the way the biological need for the drug can generate “reasons” that almost seem rational at the time.

Crowley enjoyed one of the worst reputations of any human being, but he shared many traits with millions of today’s overweight and obese people. Plenty of compulsive overeaters have thought, “It’s really not healthy to be so preoccupied with that ice cream. I’d better just go ahead and eat it, and stop obsessing about it.” That is a loose paraphrase of one of Crowley’s justifications, and he had a million of them.

A really sly mental gymnastic is to convince oneself that the only way to bring the substance use, or the behavior, to an end, is to keep on doing it. “The only way out is through,” someone might say.

Crowley wrote:

We can’t stop while we have it — the temptation is too strong. The best way is to finish it. We probably won’t be able to get any more, so we take it in order to stop taking it.

Probably the most dazzlingly familiar excuse that Crowley came up with is equally valid (or invalid) today. What if the person goes through the pain of withdrawal — and then gets hit by a bus? They could have had all that extra time to stay addicted, and would have chosen to, if only they had known that death by accident was approaching.

It is a well-known trope of addiction folklore that hard drug addicts have a ranking system, a hierarchy of what are considered high-class and low-class addictions. One of Crowley’s rationalizations is classic:

Most of us dig our graves with out teeth. Heroin had destroyed my appetite, therefore it is good for me.

He’s copping a superior attitude, with the subtle implication that food addicts are inferior to compulsive heroin users. The really interesting part is how easily the sentiment could be flipped. A compulsive overeater could just as reasonably claim the moral high ground by saying, “Most of those idiots kill themselves with drugs. At least food is healthy and natural.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Diary of a Drug Fiend,” Amazon.com
Source: “Sex, Drugs & Magick: A Journey Beyond Limits,” DocSlide.us
Photo credit: Thierry Ehrmann (Abode of Chaos) via Visualhunt/CC BY

Ten Points for Health From the U.K.

st-mary-statues-england

Childhood Obesity News has been following the history of how various factions in the United Kingdom deliberated and propagandized along the way to finally instituting a sugar tax. We have looked at the arguments in favor, and the objections.

One of the side roads was the creation, by the National Obesity Forum and Public Health Collaboration, of a set of guidelines representing the ideal diet. Published about a year ago, the list contained 10 major points.

The first, “Eating Fat Does Not Make You Fat,” is another valiant attempt to correct the decades-long misconception caused by corrupt scientists who were paid to exonerate sugar and blame the obesity epidemic on dietary fat. The Harvard School of Public Health had done its best to straighten things out, by examining the medical records of more than 68,000 individuals from 53 studies. The conclusion was, “In weight loss trials, higher fat weight loss interventions led to significantly greater weight loss than low-fat interventions.”

More course correction

For the next point, “Saturated Fat Does Not Cause Heart Disease,” the publication likewise cites studies, and recommends the consumption of meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, olive, and avocados, because evidence that saturated fat causes cardiovascular disease is just not there. In fact the report states: “Full-fat dairy may also protect against obesity.”

Point 3 covers the same ground from another angle, warning against products that are advertised as low fat, low cholesterol, “lite,” and so forth. Point 4 recommends avoiding starchy and refined carbohydrates. Staying away from those is said to prevent, and even reverse, type 2 diabetes.

The report expressed disappointment because the websites of two authorities that should know better, Diabetes UK and the National Health Service itself, were still recommending starchy carbs to type 2 diabetes patients:

A recent comprehensive review concludes that dietary carbohydrate restriction is the “single most effective intervention for reducing all of the features of the metabolic syndrome” and should be the first approach in diabetes management.

Point 5 is quite straightforward: “Optimum Sugar Consumption for Health is ZERO.” Point 6 addresses the misunderstanding that caused a craze for omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids, when omega-3 is what we really should be going for.

The report also takes a stand on the idea that “Obesity is a disease of energy partitioning, not one of total energy intake.” The partitioning is decided by insulin, and for lack of a deeper understanding of how various nutritional elements are metabolized, calorie-counting has actually damaged public health.

According to the repost:

For example, equal calorie portions of sugar, alcohol, meat or olive oil have widely differing effects on hormonal systems such as insulin, and satiety signals such as cholecystokinin or peptide YY. It is highly irrelevant how many calories a portion of food on a plate contains. What matters is how our body responds to the ingestion and absorption of those calories…

Point 8, “You Cannot Outrun a Bad Diet,” is especially relevant for the young, who think that sports participation and constant activity will somehow cancel out the effects of junk food. Point 9 is for everybody: “Snacking Will Make You Fat.”

Point 10, for now, comes under the heading of “wishful thinking” as far as both the U.K. and the USA are concerned. Back in the mid-1980s, America’s National Academy of Sciences recommended a minimum of 25 hours of nutrition instruction for medical students. But, decades later, the number of medical schools providing even that minimum has actually decreased. The typical American medical student gets less than 20 contact hours of nutritional education.

In Britain no one, including the doctors themselves, believes that what they have learned is adequate. So Point 10 is:

Evidence Based Nutrition Should Be Incorporated In to Education Curricula For All Healthcare Professionals.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Eat Fat, Cut The Carbs and Avoid Snacking To Reverse Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes,” phcuk.org, 05/23/16
Source: “Teaching Doctors About Nutrition and Diet,” NYTimes.com, 09/16/10
Photo credit: Dun.can via Visualhunt/CC BY

Sugar Tax and Scandal in the U.K.

whispering-secrets

The word “scandal” was often heard in the hot debate that led up to the United Kingdom’s sugar tax. It was used by the National Obesity Forum and Public Health Collaboration to describe how the alleged experts (academics, medical journals and institutions) have misinformed the public about what really causes obesity:

A global survey carried out by investment bank Credit Suisse worryingly revealed a substantial level of misinformation that exists amongst doctors with 92% believing that fat consumption could lead to cardiovascular issues… Incorrectly 54% of doctors and 40% of nutritionists thought that eating cholesterol-rich foods raises blood cholesterol.

Since 1983, the government of the U.K. has been pushing these erroneous messages, resulting in increased consumption of “low fat junk food, refined carbohydrates and polyunsaturated vegetable oil,” and people have been getting fatter and fatter.

The next stage is summed up in an opinion piece by Matt Crossman:

When it comes to causes, a large proportion of the blame was initially directed at our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and high fat diets. However, over the last decade, overconsumption of sugar has emerged as a major area of concern in the obesity debate.

We have already mentioned other scandals, like the status of children’s dental health and the existence of loopholes that were never closed despite the lengthy development process the law went through.

The Guardian‘s Health Editor Sarah Boseley said this about the legislators who sit in Parliament:

MPs applauded the announcement of a tax on sugary drinks, but called on the government to monitor whether drinks companies pass on the tax in the form of higher prices and whether they also raise the prices of their unsweetened drinks, such as water, as well. They also call for sweetened milk drinks to be included — at the moment they are exempt.

The Obesity Health Alliance spotlighted loopholes in the marketing rules that “leave children exposed to unhealthy food and drinks during the programs they watch the most.” This one may not even be worth spending energy on, because with the growth of on-demand entertainment, it does not much matter any more what prime-time television does.

The major junk-food brands of England have been moving forward with sugar reduction for some time now. A corporation known as AG Barr, for instance, pursues an ambitious plan to bring 90% of its brands below the taxable sugar level. But there is a dark, disreputable angle: the replacement of sugar with who-knows-what?

Another scandal is how a group called Public Health England is mainly composed of representatives from the food and drink industries. Another is the national recommended guideline for sugar, which finds 22 teaspoons of it per day a perfectly acceptable amount.

These and other objections caused the National Obesity Forum and Public Health Collaboration to author its own set of guidelines, which will be discussed in an upcoming post. Spoiler alert: Point 5 states, “Optimum Sugar Consumption for Health is ZERO.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Eat Fat, Cut The Carbs and Avoid Snacking To Reverse Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes,” phcuk.org, 05/23/16
Source: “The deadly risk of sugar: It’s time investors reassessed food and drinks companies,”
CityAM.com, 03/15/17
Source: “Supermarkets must stop discounting unhealthy foods to tackle child obesity, say Mps,” TheGuardian.com, 03/26/17
Photo credit: ElizaC3 via Visualhunt/CC BY

The U.K.’s Long Road to Sugar Tax

dirt-road-UK

Childhood Obesity News has been following the ongoing turmoil in the United Kingdom over the introduction of a tax on sugary drinks and junk food. Although passed, it still doesn’t go into effect for another year. Contention is a healthy thing in a society, up to a point. In this case, over the years of debate, every possible special interest group has been heard from, including those who resent their fellow Brits collecting disability payments because they are too obese to work.

Valid as the point may be, it only concerns a relatively small number of individuals compared to, for instance, the multitude of children who are admitted to hospitals under the National Health Service to have their rotten teeth extracted. Last year, this included 47 babies less than one year old.

Despite dental care being free, almost half of British children did not see a dentist even once last year. Then, they show up at the emergency room with a mouthful of decay so extensive it prevents eating and sleeping and, by extension, their ability to learn in school.

According to the Royal College of Surgeons:

The number of children aged four and under being hospitalized for tooth extractions has risen by almost a quarter in the last decade…

Journalist Katie Forster quotes Dr. Andrew Wilson:

We will regularly see children as young as five or six who come in and have 20 teeth taken out in one go.

Disturbing loopholes

Meanwhile, other parties voiced their concern over a disturbing loophole. The British Medical Journal published the results of investigation into the amounts of sugar in various products. This led to objections to the sugar tax on grounds of unfair enforcement.

If it applied to carbonated beverages, surely it should also apply to fruit juices that contain as much, if not more, sugar. But for whatever reason, the law wasn’t written that way.

Even with mile-wide loopholes and all its other advantages, the industry was not satisfied. At the same time, everything became even more complicated by the Brexit controversy and an announcement from France that sugar production would be increasing by nearly one-third over the next few years, and other factors too complicated for anyone not British to comprehend.

… And scandals

But even gaping holes in the law are less consequential than scandals, which is the precise word used by British Dental Association chair Mick Armstrong to describe what he sees as unacceptable inequality in the administration of health care.

Surrey is a 96% white county close to London, and very prosperous for the same reason that the suburbs of Washington, D.C., are wealthy: proximity to the seat of power. Blackburn, on the other hand, is a former industrial center that has fallen on hard times, with many residents in economic distress, and many members of ethnic and religious groups that have not traditionally been found in England.

Armstrong told the reporter:

It’s a national scandal that a child born in Blackburn is now seven times more likely to experience decay than one born in the Health Secretary’s Surrey constituency. These deep inequalities now require real commitment from government, not just token efforts.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Tooth Decay,” Independent.co.uk, 03/21/17
Source: “Sugar tax is unfair to blackcurrant drinks, says Ribena boss,” Telegraph.co.uk, 12/05/16
Photo credit: Ben Cremin via Visualhunt/CC BY

Meet the Good Guys — the Center for Digital Democracy

kids watching old television set

In America’s struggle over advertising, children, and the First Amendment, there have been, and are, many “good guys.” Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News mentioned how a spokesperson for the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD) characterized the behavioral guidelines sought by the government and a large segment of the public:

I think we need to look at this as battle lines, not guidelines.

What, exactly, was that supposed to mean? Such an ambiguous remark could be made by someone on either side of a controversy. ConsumerReports.org described the CDD as “an organization that looks at Internet marketing to children.”

The group’s own website describes it as “one of the leading consumer protection and privacy organizations in the United States” and goes on to say:

CDD especially focuses on key areas it believes have a crucial impact on a person’s financial security, health, children, and civil rights. By combining advocacy, industry research, coalition-building, and media outreach, CDD helps hold accountable some of the most powerful forces shaping the destiny of the world — especially those companies that dominate the global Internet landscape.

Executive director Jeffrey Chester told ConsumerReports.org that the protective guidelines would close the marketing loophole, a necessary mission because…

Companies are flooding the Internet with an array of highly sophisticated digital marketing tactics that are designed to drive kids to fast food restaurants and supermarket shelves.

In 2015, the CDD collaborated with the Berkeley Media Studies Group to look at shops and fast-food outlets that hope to sell obesity-inducing junk food to young people. In this case, the question was whether such businesses ought to be geo-tracking their potential customers.

The group is against fancy-pants brainwashing techniques invented by industry drones, and its goal is for cyberspace to become a healthier place. It investigates child-directed digital marketing, and when potential violations are spotted, complaints are filed with the Federal Trade Commission. If the situation warrants, the Center will sue the likes of Google or YouTube.

Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood

The CDD joined several other consumer watchdog groups in filing a joint complaint about the YouTube Kids app. The words “unfair and deceptive marketing” cropped up, as they often do in these instances. The specific objection is that when content and advertising are so thoroughly commingled, skulduggery must be inferred.

The wider objection was (and is) that a lot of money is being spent to exert power over unformed, impressionable minds, and for only one reason. The profligate corporations expect to be rewarded by making back many times that amount. The feeling was, if McDonald’s has its own YouTube channel to flog Happy Meals, things have gotten out of hand.

YouTube condescended to make a concession, promising to mend its ways and confine its platform’s offerings to so-called “family-friendly” and educational material. The viability of self-policing is a theme that will be touched on again.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Proposed FTC guidelines push back at food pushers,” ConsumerReports.org, 06/01/11
Source: “About,” DemocraticMedia.org, undated
Source: “Exposing the Murky World of Online Ads Aimed at Kids,” Wired.com. 04/07/15
Photo credit: Nagy-Bagoly Arpad/123RF Stock Photo

Battle Lines Hotly Discussed

ren-fair-battle-2

Childhood Obesity News has been looking back at how things were several years ago, regarding the struggle between the government and the food industry.

Dr. Pretlow reflected, at the time:

Ideally, all food advertising directed at children should be banned. Food advertising directed at children is, in truth, enticement rather than advertising. Only highly pleasurable foods are advertised, which may get children hooked. Food companies are no dopes: an addicted kid is a customer for life.

Overweight and obese kids are hapless victims of stress, loneliness, and depression in a readily available, addicting, comfort food environment. Food addiction and resulting weight gain devastates their lives. These kids are in real pain. They desperately need for the medical profession, parents, and policy makers to do something about this deplorable problem.

Six years ago this month, the U.S. government published the voluntary principles that it hoped the industry would agree to abide by. It was not enough that the bureaucrats were nagging about harmful ingredients, they even wanted food and beverage corporations to limit their advertising efforts to foods that make a meaningful contribution to a child’s diet.

To no one’s surprise, the industry reacted with little enthusiasm. It was easy to see why, since, as Diane Bartz reported, “A significant percentage of the products currently marketed to children would not meet the proposed nutrition principles.” The industry also pushed back, through its mouthpieces, the Association of National Advertisers and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. They claimed that ads for junk food and drink, targeting kids under 12, had already virtually disappeared from the airwaves.

But the government entities asking for guidelines wanted to stop all marketing to kids up until age 18. This could not be tolerated. The request to stay out of the eyes and ears of younger children was bad enough, but the expectations of leaving teenagers alone during their impressionable years was just too much.

A slight hitch

Furthermore, an industry lobbying group, the Sensible Food Policy Coalition, notified the world that “of the 100 most popular foods, only 12 […] would meet the requirements of the guidelines.” Imagine, they actually said that as if it were a legitimate objection, rather than proof of the very point the government agencies were trying to make, on behalf of America’s children.

ConsumerReports.org noted that the proposed guidelines would encompass not only print media and television, but social media, online games, product placement in theatrical films, and the printed matter included with kids’ meals at fast food outlets. But the industry would get a huge break. Even those who chose to voluntarily accept the guidelines would have a 5-to-10 year grace period to bring them into effect, which seemed more than fair.

The Center for Digital Democracy entered the fray, encouraging action that would “close the marketing loophole” and “make cyberspace healthier.” The organization’s executive director, Jeffrey Chester, told the press:

I think we need to look at this as battle lines, not guidelines.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “UPDATE 1-US proposes advertisers ditch junk food for kids,” Reuters.com, 04/28/11
Source: “Industry Group: Feds Would Muzzle Advertising of Popular Foods.” Adweek.com, 08//04/11
Source: “Proposed FTC guidelines push back at food pushers,” ConsumerReports.org, 06/01/11
Photo credit: Andrew Gould (arthwollipot) via Visualhunt/CC BY

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
Copyright © 2014 eHealth International. All Rights Reserved.