Sunday, November 19, 2006

On Fat Kids

One of my favorite debate issues, unhealthy advertising for children's television, is being turned into a policy by Ofcom in the UK.

The reason why I like it so much is because it's one of the most balanced issues I've seen, not to mention one of the richest. On one hand, banning junk food advertisements might help stave off childhood obesity. On the other, childhood obesity should be something parents should pay attention to, and the burden and responsibility shouldn't be on the government, lest parents become complacent. There's also the "Joe Camel" principle, then again the consequences to children's programming might be dire considering who their major sponsors are.

In any case, the most interesting point about this new proposal is that it doesn't just cover children's programming, it also covers programming that has an audience composed primarily of children. That means shows such as Friends is also included in the ban.

If you're too lazy to read the two links above, here's the faq that the Guardian provided:

FAQ: Junk food advertising

Why is Ofcom taking action now?
In December 2003 the government asked the regulator to consider strengthening the regulation of food and drink advertising on children. It then embarked on a marathon research effort that sought to determine the effect of junk food advertising on children's eating habits and place it in the context of other influences including demographics, family eating habits, school policy, public education, food labelling and exercise.

Why has it taken so long?
It has been a long and exhaustive lobbying process, pitting the combined might of the food industry, advertising trade bodies and broadcasters against single issue health groups and consumer associations. The latter loose coalition saw their arguments gain traction as the Jamie Oliver-inspired healthy eating campaign and the debate around childhood obesity gathered pace.

How did we get here?
Having established that television advertising had a "modest" direct effect on eating habits and a larger indirect effect, Ofcom published a menu of potential options. However, none satisfied the health lobby, which wanted to see a complete ban on all junk food advertising before 9pm. Ofcom argued that would have a devastating effect on broadcasters, and came back with further proposals more draconian than its original ones but still stopped short of a complete ban.

Why has it proved controversial?
The debate over advertising junk food to children is a microcosm of the wider debate around obesity and the damaging effects of "pester power". The combined lobbying power of the food industry, added to the debate around obesity and a government taking a keen interest but not wanting to legislate in the area left Ofcom in a no-win situation.

In other news, there's also a proposal coming from the UK that wants severely obese children get gastric bypass surgery.

That is, the government should subsidize the gastric bypass surgery of severely overweight children.

Could be a good debate.

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