US Food Advertisers Hit Back at Medical Critics

09 December 2005

The Association of National Advertisers - the powerful trade body representing America's largest consumer and corporate marketers - on Wednesday refuted claims made earlier this week of a link between advertising and children's consumption of junk food [WAMN: 08-Dec-05].

ANA chief executive Bob Liodice slammed the report published by the Institute of Medicine, which demonstrated a "statistical association between ad viewing and obesity". The report also criticized food companies' system of self-regulation, which requires only voluntary action to promote the consumption of healthier foods.

Liodice insists, however, there is "no statistical correlation" between advertising and obesity; and food companies promoting to children have been unfairly criticized. He deems it "outrageously irresponsible and downright shameful" to blame advertisers for contributing to child obesity.

"Food advertising does not lead to an imbalanced diet. It's one thing to want a candy bar today but it's another thing to eat in an imbalanced way over the long term - which is one of the core reasons why children become obese."

Liodice maintains that the level of advertising to children has fallen in the US and elsewhere, while the increase in child obesity continues to rise. He cites FTC data showing that advertising during children's programming has fallen by 34% since 1977.

Conversely: "In Quebec and Sweden, two territories where children's advertising has been banned, childhood obesity has not declined one iota," Liodice claims.

Both sides are fighting an ongoing battle with cherry-picked statistics - underlining Disraeli's famous aphorism that there are three kinds of lie: "Lies, damned lies, and statistics."

The IOM, for its part, contends it has uncovered "strong evidence that television advertising influences the food and beverage preferences and purchase requests of children aged 2-11 years," is based on assessments of 120 studies of companies' uses of advertising to children.

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff