Obamaless Childhood Obesity?


Back in 2009, four federal agencies (Centers for Disease Control, Federal Trade Commission, Department of Agriculture, and Food and Drug Administration) got together as the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children. When, two years later, the new bureaucracy finally came up with ideas for voluntary standards that the food industry could adopt for marketing food to children, the food industry did not rejoice.

In fact, the food industry freaked out. “First of all,” the industry said, “you guys were only asked to find links, if they exist, between advertising and childhood obesity. Period.” Or, as journalist Audrey Hudson more elegantly expressed it:

The Interagency Working Group was directed by Congress to present a report to lawmakers on suggested standards for marketing food to children, along with recommendations on how to make it happen. Congress never got the report, and the so-called suggestions went straight to the industry, which says it will cost millions of dollars to retool the contents of food to meet the strict guidelines.

The Interagency Working Group was accused of overstepping its bounds and creating a call for unprecedented restrictions, which in this context is a less than meaningful criticism. The childhood obesity epidemic is also unprecedented, but that doesn’t mean it can be ignored. But the industry got all noisily defensive about these dreadful ideas that could ultimately lead to the government invading the sanctity of the home and planning family meals.

Dr. William Dietz of the CDC is quoted as saying:

The more television a child watches, the more likely they are to consume food while watching television. And those foods are more likely to be the foods that are advertised on television.

But, according to the industry, no scientific study has found evidence of a connection between its advertising methods and childhood obesity. And besides, out of the 100 most-advertised foods and drinks, 88 of them would be in violation of the suggested standards. Among the items that could not be marketed to kids under 18 would be breakfast cereals, low-fat yogurt, and whole wheat bread. Quelle horreur!, as the French might exclaim. What a dark day that would be for advertisers.

The food industry’s dismay at the suggestions was somewhat disingenuous. Nobody said that kids would be prevented from buying this stuff — just like any other consumer. Nobody told the industry it couldn’t sell its wares to young people, just that it might consider changing its advertising tactics to that age group.

Yesterday, Childhood Obesity News mentioned the disappointment felt by the First Lady’s supporters, when she and her Let’s Move! campaign stepped back and stayed out of the controversy. Critics imply that, because Michelle Obama willfully ignored this particular aspect of the attempt to bring the industry under control, the whole idea just collapsed. But there was more to it.

For Reuters, Duff Wilson and Janet Roberts investigated, and produced a special report that names names and explains in exquisite detail how the guidelines concept was quashed, to the detriment of the battle against childhood obesity. The villain was money, of course, and plenty of it. The reporters say:

Comparing the last three years of the Bush administration to the first three years of Obama’s, total campaign contributions from the more than 50 food and beverage groups and companies analyzed by Reuters were about the same. But during the Obama administration, the contributions increased substantially to some candidates who played key roles in warding off regulation.

Quelle surprise!, as the French might again say. Imagine, influence being bought and children’s health being sold down the river. Who could have foreseen such a shocking contingency?

(To be continued…)

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Don’t Let Obama Kill ‘Tony the Tiger‘,” Human Events, 10/18/11
Source: “Special Report: How Washington went soft on childhood obesity,” Reuters, 04/27/12
Image by sanbeiji (Joe Lewis).

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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