. "Appendix D: Lessons Learned from Public Health Efforts and Their Relevance to Preventing Childhood Obesity." Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2005.
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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance
the marketing of commercial products to children is intensely debated. As one might assume, public health advocates are convinced that marketing efforts are a substantial contributing factor to youth risk behaviors, particularly in the areas of tobacco use, underage drinking, and consumption of high-fat and calorie-dense foods. The manufacturers of these products (and their legal counsel) take just the opposite position, claiming there is insufficient empirical evidence to prove the precise role of marketing on the relevant behaviors of children. At most, manufacturers may concede that marketing may influence the selection of a particular brand of a product but that there is little evidence that marketing contributes to the initiation or use of a product, or causes an overall increase in demand for that product. Despite the lack of existence of the single, definitive, experimental study that unarguably proves that advertising affects the health behaviors of young people, including the initiation and continuation of consumption, most public health authorities agree that the overall weight of the scientific evidence points inescapably to this conclusion.
Concern about the effect of the information environment, particularly the effect of the marketing of harmful products on children, became prominent during the early 1990s corresponding to the increase in youth smoking. Discovering that very young children were more likely to recognize Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse, and that adolescents were much more likely than adults to smoke the most advertised brands, led regulators to attempt to restrict the information environment, particularly as it relates to young people (Kessler, 2001). The battles have continued over the last decade, with litigation replacing public policy as the primary vehicle to restrict advertising, or at least receive compensation for the harm caused. To a large extent, the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) attempted to resolve this issue, combining cash payments to states and voluntary limitations on marketing practices (Schroeder, 2004). However, most believe the problem continues and marketing for tobacco products is unabated. Following the MSA agreement with the states, in 1999 the U.S. Department of Justice4 filed suit against the tobacco industry under racketeering and organized crime statues, including the claim that tobacco companies aggressively marketed cigarettes to children. This case was scheduled to go to trial in September 2004. In February 2004, the U.S. District Court denied a motion by the tobacco companies to dismiss the section of the case related to youth marketing of tobacco products.4
Thus, the issue of the impact of product marketing on the health-related behaviors of young people continues to be reviewed scholarly, as
USA v. Philip Morris USA Inc., Civil Action 99-2496.