February 16th, 2006

Preventing Childhood Obesity: An Open Letter to the US Congress

By Michael Dansinger, MD, MS
Medscape General Medicine

American children may be the first generation to have shorter life spans than their parents. Childhood obesity rates have tripled in recent decades,[1] due largely to an environment that has become increasingly saturated with unhealthy, but highly marketed, food products.[2] Obese children are now developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease at an alarming rate,[3] and we cannot expect this to improve unless we make substantial environmental changes.

The aggressive and relentless advertisement of nutritionally poor foods to children exploits them and is overwhelming for even the most vigilant parents. Children see 10 food advertisements per hour when they watch TV, mostly for unhealthy foods.[4] In principle, parents can forbid their children to watch TV, but most agree that this approach is too extreme.

Our children deserve an environment that promotes good health; it’s fundamental to our nation’s best interest. Parents don’t want unhealthy foods marketed to their children,[5] and the only realistic way to stop this is to enact and enforce laws that offset the economic incentives that have made children the easy prey of food companies.

We need a few courageous legislators to resist the food company lobbies and start the nation thinking about banning food advertising to children. It has been done in Europe and elsewhere and should be done in America, too.[2,6] If future generations of Americans are to be healthy and happy, we must curtail the lax food marketing laws that promote childhood obesity. Let’s not turn a blind eye to this crisis!

That’s my opinion. I’m Dr. Michael Dansinger, Obesity Researcher at Tufts-New England Medical Center and Director of the Tufts Popular Diet Trial.

References

Ogden CL, Flegal KM, Carroll MD, Johnson CL. Prevalence and trends in overweight among US children and adolescents, 1999-2000. JAMA. 2002;288:1728-1732. Abstract

Brownell KD, Horgan KB. Food Fight: The Inside Story of the Food Industry, America’s Obesity Crisis and What We Can Do About It. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2004.

Aye T, Levitsky LL. Type 2 diabetes: an epidemic disease in childhood. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2003;15:411-415. Abstract

Taras HL, Gage M. Advertised foods on children’s television. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1995;149:649-652. Abstract

Roper poll. Selling to Kids: Reading, Writing, Buying. Consumer Reports; 1988.

Dansinger ML, Schaefer EJ. Low-fat diets and weight change. JAMA. 2006;295:94-95. Abstract

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