Monday, January 17, 2005

Bad ads.

In the New Republic, Michael Fumento writes on one of my favorite (or least favorite, I guess) topics - television.

He describes a campaign by the Center for Science in the Public Interest designed to convince companies to restrict the types of foods they advertise to children.

Fumento says that it's not just the advertising that's making American kids fat, it's too much TV:

Debating how much blame to assign television advertising for childhood obesity isn't irrelevant--but it misses the bigger picture. True, as any parent can tell you, it's not easy to refuse children's pleas, which marketers term the "nag factor" or "pester power." But in focusing its attention on television advertising, CSPI is foregoing an opportunity to confront an even bigger culprit behind childhood weight gain: the television itself.

To be sure, measures--voluntary or otherwise--to reduce the amount of junk food advertising aimed at kids would almost certainly have a salutary effect.

But a more comprehensive approach wouldn't stop with advertising; it would seek to limit the amount of time that kids spend watching any kind of TV. Such an approach wouldn't just help to reduce childhood obesity; it would also address other problems--of the educational and intellectual variety--that television causes.

The CSPI report contains one stat that I found a bit startling:

Each day, children receive about 58 commercial messages from television alone, about half of which are for food.

Here is how they describe their campaign:

Today CSPI sent its Guidelines to officials at major food companies, chain restaurants, television networks, television stations in the 50 largest markets, movie studios, supermarkets, and children's magazines and urged them to comply on a voluntary basis.

I've never heard of CSPI before, but I'm not alone is being a bit skeptical. I've got no problem with their voluntary compliance program, but I surely won't support government regulation of junk food ads.

I agree with Fumento that it's not just the ads; the amount of time that kids (and adults) spend watching TV is obscene, and can only lead to worsening health.

Thought I don't think he means to, his words at the end of his piece could be construed to imply that the government may need to play a role in changing Americans' TV habits - again, a concept with which I would vehemently disagree.