- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 9, 2004

Excessive advertising of junk foods — especially to children — is exacerbating the obesity problem in the United States and requires further regulation, according to a new report by a group of health advocates.

The report, released yesterday by the Public Health Advocacy Institute, a Boston research group, points to a “food environment” in America that encourages overconsumption of high-energy, low-nutrition products.

The report highlights methods the institute will focus on during its second annual conference in Boston Sept. 17-19, said Anthony Robbins, the institute’s chairman.

The institute last year promoted efforts to sue fast-food chains like McDonald’s Corp. and food manufacturers such as Kraft Foods Inc. Several lawsuits have been filed against fast-food chains and food manufacturers in the past year with little success.

While the obesity-related lawsuits are considered a useful tool in influencing the food industry, the group is broadening its strategy for combating obesity.

The report recommended further regulations for food advertising to children and changes in the U.S. dietary guidelines to warn people against overeating high-fat, sugar-laden foods.

It encouraged advocates to fight against state and legislative bills that insulate the food and restaurant industry from lawsuits and push for bills that would improve the nutritional content in school meals, limit the presence of vending machines in schools and tax certain snack foods and soft drinks.

Food industry lobbyists said the report focused too much on “bad” and “good” foods and not enough on declining physical activity and personal choice.

“These advocates don’t speak much about exercise because it’s easier to control food choices through taxation and availability restrictions than it is possible to make people do push-ups,” said Rick Berman, executive director for the Center for Consumer Freedom.

But telling people to eat less and exercise alone won’t curb obesity, said Richard Daynard, a Northeastern University law professor who works with the institute. “We really need to consider a wide range of approaches.”

Obesity-related diseases are the second-most preventable cause of death in the United States after tobacco, accounting for about 400,000 deaths annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Most of the focus at the upcoming conference will be on the marketing behavior of food companies, Mr. Daynard said.

Additionally, there will be some examination of the composition of foods to determine whether some are addictive or contain ingredients that trigger overeating, he said.

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