by Marion Nestle
Apr 22 2010

American youth too fat to fight?

Food politics makes strange bedfellows.

The Associated Press reports that an organization of retired military personnel, Mission Readiness, is upset about obesity.  American youth, it says, are  Too Fat to Fight. Obesity may be a threat to personal health, but this group sees the problem as a threat to national security (see note below).

Here’s the irony.  The exact opposite was true in World War II.  Then, the army had trouble finding recruits who were not undernourished.

How did we go from lean to fat?  TV food commercials, for one thing, says Jane Brody in a review of recent studies.   Kids eat what they see.  The Rudd Center at Yale has even more recent data on the number of commercials watched by young children.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for regulating advertising.  It has been making noises lately about taking on food marketing to kids.  I’ve heard rumors that the FTC is ready to release a report on the topic but food marketer’ complaints are holding it up.  Many marketers (not just of food) are worried that the FTC might move to restrict Internet marketing.

This might be a good time to ask the FTC what it is doing about food marketing to kids.

Note: Thanks to Bob Bannister for reminding me of George Saunders’ Shouts & Murmurs piece on this topic in the New Yorker.

Addition, April 22: The rumors about food industry pressures on the FTC turn out to be true.  Margo Wootan of CSPI reports on a meeting today with representatives of the FTC:

A number of members of the Food Marketing Workgroup met with FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz today and delivered the letter [urging the FTC to publish standards for marketing to children]. It was a good meeting.They said that the standards are not in jeopardy and should be out in the near future. All the industry opposition has caused the agencies to go through a more thorough (i.e., slow) clearance process.

If you can’t block action, you can always delay it as long as possible.