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Junk food advertising contributes to young Americans' obesity

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.331.7530.1426-c (Published 15 December 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:1426
  1. Kristina Fister
  1. BMJ

    Junk food and the advertising that promotes it are a serious threat to the health of young Americans, says a new report from the US Institute of Medicine.

    The report summarises current evidence on the effect that advertising campaigns have on the food and beverage consumption of young people in the United States. The report was commissioned by the Congress.

    The diets of young Americans differ substantially from recommended diets: they are too rich in energy, fat, salt, and added sugars, and they fail to achieve basic nutritional goals, the report says. Because eating patterns form early in life and help determine people's long term health prospects, major changes are needed to reshape young people's awareness of healthy choices, it says.

    The report warns that reversing the current trends will require wide ranging action and commitment from the private and public sectors. It says the US government should establish a strategic, multifaceted programme to help parents and carers promote healthy diets among children and adolescents.

    Schools should develop and implement policies that promote healthy diets in all areas of the school environment, covering commercial sponsorship, meals and snacks, and the curriculum. The report calls on the US government to introduce a full range of public policy approaches, including subsidies, taxes, legislation, regulation, and federal nutrition programmes, to foster the development and promotion of healthy diets.

    The food, beverage, and restaurant industries should turn their creativity and resources to producing and advertising new child friendly foods that are low in energy, fats, salt, and added sugar. Energy content and key nutrition information on menus and packaging should be more visible.

    “If voluntary efforts related to advertising during children's television programming are unsuccessful,” the report says, “Congress should enact legislation mandating the shift on both broadcast and cable television.” The report also recognises that modern marketing approaches are sophisticated and go beyond television advertising to include the internet, “advergames,” and strategic product placement across the media.

    The Institute of Medicine's committee of 16 experts drew on more than 100 scientific studies in preparing the report, but the report emphasises the paucity of evidence and the need for further research into how advertising affects young people and how it can be used to promote health. Food Marketing to Children and Youth: Threat or Opportunity? can be found at http://www.nap.edu/books/0309097134/html.

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