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Tuesday, June 15, 2004

OBESITY IS NOT CAUSED BY ADVERTISING I have posted before about obesity only once because I hadn't previously taken it serious as a political issue, but it keeps returning to the debate and that's why I think that this piece by Jacob Sullum is essential reading; here the essential points:
Another inconvenient fact: Places where advertising food to children is illegal, such as Sweden and Quebec, do not have noticeably lower obesity rates than otherwise similar places with different policies.
To test the plausibility of the idea that advertising has a substantial impact on weight, Zywicki asked his audience to imagine a fat child who watches six hours of Nickelodeon a day. Would you expect him to get thinner if his parents switched him to six hours of commercial-free PBS programming?
. . .
If parents don't have the wherewithal to say no when their kids ask for something they saw on TV, their problems go far beyond the risk of chubby offspring.
Well, this is on the Reason website and Jacob Sullum is of course a libertarian, so his defence of the ad industry against state intrusion is to be expected. After all, what wouldn't a red-blooded libertarian not defend against state intrusion? Well, I'm not a libertarian and I'm not categorically bothered by state action and intervention in our social and economic life. As for censorship, which is the specific action lobbyists are demanding governments take against obesity, that doesn't make me too nervous either as long as it's not against anything explicitly political.
The problem that needs to be underlined here is a rather different one: banning food ads will not make any difference to obesity. That matters because people will fall far too easily into the illusion that such measures as banning ads and restricting crisp packet sizes will do the trick. The solution is unfortunately the most obvious: eat less, eat better, exercise more. And on that Sullum writes:
And while you're contemplating the kid on the couch, don't forget the dog in the corner. "Our dogs are getting overweight for exactly the same reasons we are," Zywicki noted. "They're eating too much and exercising too little. They're not watching too much advertising."
Banning food ads for children is going to be as effective at fighting obesity as banning all ownership of hand guns was at stopping gun crime.
Time to think of something else.

Update/correction: Trying to be too clever by half I suppose caused this but at first it read up there about censorship:
that doesn't make me too nervous either as long as it's against anything explicitly political.
The opposite of what I wanted to say, though I have to say it would make for many interesting debates if I had meant it that way and could back that up with arguments.

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