by George David Kidd, UMN Law Student, MJLST Staff
Globally, obesity and its underlying ailments have overtaken tobacco as the top preventable cause of death. But, while eating right and exercising might go a long way towards solving the problem, the solution might not be that simple. What drives consumer buying behavior, through more modern forms of how we interact with the world, might substantiate food science and advertising as powerful mechanisms to attack the obesity epidemic.
In Food Advertising and Childhood Obesity: A Call for Action for Proactive Solutions, published in Issue 12.2 of the Minnesota Journal of Law, Science & Technology, life and health sciences author Roseann Termini and others add advertising to the already-large list of “other” factors affecting childhood obesity rates. Indeed, children are not as informed as adults about health and may be more likely influenced by certain channels of advertising, such as television. To address this concern, one of her proposed solutions is to ban, regulate, or even shift tax structure in order to control advertising that specifically targets children. While this might be an effective mechanism to reduce demand, it may only be a partial solution. For one, because children are not, generally, the direct purchaser of food, but rather depend upon parents, to what extent does advertising actually affect the buying decisions of parents?
An article recently mentioned in The New York Times, The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food, might help answer this question. Mr. Moss similarly explores the “obesity epidemic,” but from a corporate standpoint, positing that consumers are primarily driven to buy what “tastes good.” While Mr. Moss’s article also agrees that advertising is part of the problem, he paints a more complete picture of what might be the underlying cause of parental acquiescence in a child’s poor dietary choices. The perfect combination of salt, fat, and sugar might be, in part, to blame as addicting foods that influence buying behavior. In this way, food is likened to tobacco, except, unfortunately, while people can choose whether to begin smoking, all people must eat.
While the analogy between food and tobacco may be imperfect, the point is there. If the majority of the food available to the everyday consumer is manufactured as addicting, to what degree is there a choice to eat healthy? If, in order to survive in the marketplace, a corporation has to manufacture “addicting” foods to compete, how can we make these addicting foods into disease-preventing rather than disease-aiding choices? Food science and advertising may contain the answer.