Mark Dolliver’s Takes: Serving Up Blame

When Kellogg announced it would stop touting not-so-healthy cereals to kids, news reports inevitably cited the rise of childhood obesity. As it happens, though, a recent Federal Trade Commission report indicates food advertisers aren’t as guilty in this context as people assume. Kids 2-11 do see lots of food commercials—some 5,500 a year as of 2004, the year whose data the FTC analyzed. But they saw even more when obesity was not a common childhood malady. Their exposure to food commercials fell by about 9 percent between 1977 (when the FTC did a similar study) and 2004. Moreover, the figures “do not support the view that children are seeing more advertising for low-nutrition foods,” though they see plenty. “While the foods advertised on children’s programming do not constitute a balanced diet in 2004, this was the case as well in 1977, before the rise in obesity.”