by Marion Nestle
Mar 21 2008

Will bans on marketing food to kids do any good?

In trying to figure out what to do about childhood obesity, the comments on the recent post raise issues worth pondering. Anna, for example, points out that food ads are banned in Norway but that kids are still getting fatter (although to a lesser extent than in the U.S.). She writes: “I just don’t think it [the ban] makes enough of a difference, even if it seems like a good idea on some fronts. It is the larger culture of commercialism and consumerism that surrounds children in Westernized countries, and if Norway can’t regulate commercial influences away, the US certainly can’t.”

Maybe not, but this view leads to two possibilities for dealing with childhood obesity on the policy level.  One is to do nothing (because doing something won’t do any good anyway).    The other, which I prefer, is to start taking actions, one at a time, in the hope of creating an environment more favorable to healthy eating for kids.  A ban on marketing seems like a reasonable first step, as does doing something about school food.  These might make it easier to teach kids (and parents) some critical thinking around food issues, some cooking skills, and something about where food comes from and why it matters.  The long-range goal is to create a food environment that promotes healthy eating as the default.  This means doing something, even if the results aren’t immediately obvious.   That’s why I’m so in favor of calorie labeling, marketing restrictions, school food improvements, efforts to move supermarkets into low income neighborhoods, farmers’ markets, CSAs, and everything else that makes it easier to eat better.  Eventually, they may add up to something that registers on weight surveys.  And that hope keeps me going.  How about you?