It’s hard for us not to say "we told you so" when a prestigious medical journal and a federal agency simultaneously corroborated one of our longstanding arguments. Over the weekend the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine (APAM; a publication of the American Medical Association) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released separate reports with almost identical findings: American children today do not see more food ads on television than their counterparts 20 years ago.
The trends revealed in these reports — based on detailed Nielsen data "not available to most researchers" — contradict previous estimates of children’s advertising (e.g., old studies projected figures more than double the current findings) and challenge the idea that childhood obesity is a result of TV marketing. Michael Salinger, director of the bureau of economics at the FTC, told the Washington Times on Saturday: "I think childhood obesity is a major problem … But I think the study casts doubt on whether food advertising is the main culprit."
Ignoring the role of parental responsibility, health activists and legislators have long been using marketing as an obesity scapegoat. And — even in the face of staggering evidence against their claim — the mealtime militants are unwilling to let a little thing like facts get in the way of their bureaucratic bullying.
For decades, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has run alarmist campaigns and pushed litigation under the banner idea that food advertising leads to childhood obesity. And, as expected, CSPI responded to these new findings by blindly restating its belief that advertising "helps fuel the skyrocketing rates of childhood obesity."
Of course, it’s easy to stick to your guns when your over-the-top contentions are rooted in generalizations and exaggerations. Unlike the structured analytical assessments made by APAM researchers and the FTC, the claims alleged by food police appear to follow a flexible equation: Food threat du jour = all worldly woes. On Sunday the Associated Press provided an example of this formulaic hyperbole: "[Marketing] is an insidious threat to school children responsible for everything from obesity and family stress to gender stereotyping and financial woes."
While nutrition activists will probably continue to turn a deaf ear to emerging research, the rest of the nation can use the latest information to begin to implement constructive solutions (like physical education classes and playtime) to childhood obesity.