One Obesity Remedy: Get Out and Play

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BROOKS KRAFT FOR TIME

KIDS STUFF: Jennings and consumer advocate Margo Wootan talk about marketing food to children

One thing everyone agreed on at the second day of the TIME/ABC News Obesity Summit: Americans need to exercise more. But no one could agree on what we should eat, what we should tell people to eat, and how we should tell people what to eat.

Peter Jennings moderated a lively discussion about marketing to kids. The food industry spends billions of dollars every year marketing to children. But do these ads cause obesity?

Sure, says Marion Nestle, author of the book Food Politics. “If you want to know how effective [advertising] is,” she said, “just take a two year old to a grocery store.” The challenge for parents: Children rarely see ads telling them to eat their vegetables or to exercise.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Others on the panel felt advertising was not the number one blame for obesity and they faulted lack of physical education and poor school lunch menus. Timothy J. Muris, Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, said that banning marketing to kids would be unconstitutional and would not end the problem: “Even our dogs and cats are fat and it’s not because they’re watching too much advertising."

Corporations like Pepsico look at the obesity epidemic as a business opportunity. Michelle Rosen, Senior Director at McDonald’s said that they needed to add “more food choices to their balanced portfolio.” Since McDonald’s relaunched their salad campaign last year they’ve served over 200 million salads. Sliced apples and 1% milk are the next menu additions.

But what should we eat? Would it be better to eat a salad or a bunless hamburger? The “diet warriors”, while agreeing that everyone should exercise, had different views on this as well. Dean Ornish recommends a diet low in bad carbs and high in good carbs. He promotes “a way of eating, not a diet to get on and off.” Stuart Trager of the Atkins foundation spoke of his high protein diet and Alice Lichtenstein of Tufts University said, “the bottom line is: calories count.”

Andrew Weil, the final speaker of the night, said Americans should focus on the “quality of food, not the quantity of food.” According to him, that shift in behavior is necessary at the personal level but he still believes that the obesity epidemic is a “matter of collective responsibility and not just an individual choice.” According to Weil, grassroots organizations, the government, industries, and the individual all have to work together to end the epidemic. That's something we all could agree on.