Childhood Obesity: Should Junk Food be Regulated?|Business Ethics|Case Study|Case Studies

Childhood Obesity: Should Junk Food be Regulated?

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Case Details:

Case Code : BECG054
Case Length : 16 Pages
Period : 1989 - 2005
Pub. Date : 2005
Teaching Note : Available
Organization : McDonald's Corporation et al
Industry : Food
Countries : USA, Europe, Australia, Asia

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"There seems to be a lack of appreciation that the train is already going down the track. The light at the end of the tunnel is the oncoming train."

- Robert Merrell, former governor and attorney-general of New Hampshire, commenting on the urgency of the obesity issue and its impact on food companies, in 2005.1

"Over-consumption of Coca-Cola and other sugar-laden soft drinks contributes to obesity and diabetes, reduced nutrient intake, and tooth decay."

- Michael F. Jacobson, executive director, Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), in 2001.2

"It is difficult for parents to control their children's food choices as advertisers, fast food chains, food manufacturers and schools are explicitly encouraging the consumption of unhealthy foods."

- British Medical Association, in 2005.3

The Issue

In recent years, many governments have been hardening their stance against food companies that target children in their advertisements. The reason - the childhood obesity rate is said to have reached alarming proportions and to be on the verge of becoming a 'global epidemic'.

According to a report released by the International Obesity Task Force (IOTF) in April 2004, about 155 million children worldwide were overweight;4 more than 30 million of these overweight children were classified as obese. The increasing waistlines of children were attributed primarily to 'junk foods'5 and reduced physical activity. The report highlighted a few social trends and environmental factors that promote obesity.

Many of these factors were related to the quantity, variety, availability, and promotion of energy-dense food items, accompanied by an increasing frequency of food purchase and eating, and use of restaurants and fast food outlets.

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Food marketers have become increasingly successful in targeting children directly through ads; for example, by using popular cartoon characters to endorse their products. Some people say that government measures are required to control obesity by restricting the food industry and its advertising practices.

In 1985, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had passed a competitive foods rule, which prohibits public schools from selling 'foods of minimal nutritional value (FMNV)'6. But the rule was not enforced.

However, from 2000, federal agencies and some state governments in the US actively started curbing the promotion of junk food. In January 2005, Ireland imposed a ban on the advertising of junk food. It imposed strict regulations on selling sugary confectioneries, and stringent rules that forced manufacturers to mention the contents of their products on the wrappers with a warning that they must be taken in limited quantities and excess consumption could lead to ailments like tooth decay...

Childhood Obesity: Should Junk Food be Regulated? - Next Page>>

1] Jeremy Grant, "Food groups get taste of fear," Business Standard, February 25, 2005.


3] British Medical Association: Board of Science, “Preventing childhood obesity,”, June 2005.

4] For children, the IOTF defines overweight and obesity based on international BMI (Body Mass Index) reference curves that represent BMI as a function of the child's age and gender (Refer Exhibit I for further details).

5] Junk food refers to food that is low in nutritional value and high in salt, sugar, fat, and calories.

6] Examples of FMNV: Soda pop, water ices, chewing gum, and certain types of candies, such as hard candies, jellied candies, licorice, and marshmallows.


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