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Food scam

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 01 March 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:030374
  1. Vittal Katikireddi, fourth year medical student1
  1. 1Edinburgh

You would be forgiven for scoffing at the two American teenagers who unsuccessfully sued McDonald's for making them obese. But maybe the fast food giants, confectionery multinationals, and fizzy pop manufacturers are far from blameless. Vittal Katikireddi finds out

Obesity is a growing problem worldwide, particularly in developed countries. While the litigation continues in America, it is no surprise that it's been America that is leading the way in the incidence of obesity. It has been estimated that as many as a quarter of American children are obese.1 For those of us elsewhere, however, things look set to go a similar way. In the United Kingdom, the incidence of obesity has trebled in the past 20 years.2 This dramatic rise is accompanied by an increase in illnesses associated with obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease.

Link between advertising and consumption in children

It is therefore a matter of great concern for health professionals to observe food companies' blatant targeting of children. Research has long established a link between advertising and consumption in children.3 Unfortunately, given that the food advertised to children--largely high in sugar, high in fat, or both--will increase consumption, it seems that the battle against the bulge cannot but fail.

Thankfully, most countries have not yet reached the state of America, where 5.7 million children regularly watch a 12 minute educational programme on the now infamous Channel 1.2 The programme contains two minutes of advertising for a variety of unhealthy foods. The 30 second adverts are so valuable to the food industry that a couple of years ago …

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