During the past forty years global rates of overweight and obesity have risen dramatically. In 2010 more than 155 million children worldwide were overweight (more than one in ten) and of these approximately 30-45 million were obese, or between two and three per cent of the world’s 5-17 year-old children.
In Australia, more than 14 million people fall within the overweight or obese range, and Australia is ranked as one of the fattest nations in the developed world. The prevalence of obesity in Australia has more than doubled in the past 20 years, and children are at particular risk of overweight and obesity.
But the answer is probably not a ban on all marketing to children. In the first instance, simply the practicalities of a blanket ban would be incredibly difficult, particularly in trying to keep up with the constantly changing promotional environment.
Imagine this scene – a personal trainer barking at his flabby pen-pushing charges to push themselves through the pain barrier and climb those steps because “the human body wasn’t designed to sit at a computer all day”. It’s easy to imagine because of the common perception that the root cause of the current obesity epidemic is a radical shift in human behaviour – from the hunter-gatherer ways of our ancient ancestors to our current sedentary lifestyles with diets high in energy-dense and highly-processed foods.
On New Years day, as the Victorian and Northern Territory governments followed NSW, WA and the ACT by implementing laws preventing cigarettes from being put on display to the public, the Australian Medical Association called for a $25 million TV and newspaper advertising campaign showing “damaged vital organs or people drinking liquefied body fat” to shock Australians into giving up junk food and sugary soft drinks. The good doctors based their call upon a belief that the fear-based advertising campaigns used by the TAC (in Victoria) and Quit have been effective in changing behaviour around driving and smoking.
A new advertisement to be shown in Washington DC (US) made by the health lobby group, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) shows an overweight, middle aged man lying in the morgue, with a half-eaten hamburger in his hand. Some lame acting by a weeping woman (the assumption is that she is related to him) and a nodding doctor, rounds out a generally unremarkable execution.