Mark Dolliver’s Takes: Fat Kids—Who’s to Blame?

Americans see no shortage of villains behind the epidemic of childhood obesity. A poll fielded for the Wall Street Journal Online’s Heath Industry Edition by Harris Interactive gave people a chance to ladle out blame. As you can see from the chart, food-industry advertising to kids ranks as a significant culprit. Indeed, the number of adults taking this view (strongly or somewhat) has risen 10 percentage points since 2005.

Still, parents are at the forefront when responsibility is handed out for kids’ dietary excesses. Eighty-three percent of respondents endorsed the statement, “If children in the U.S. are becoming obese, it’s because parents are not paying enough attention to their eating habits, not because of the food industry’s marketing and advertising.” As for burning calories, 89 percent think kids would be more physically active if parents set limits on use of computers, TV and video games.

Should the government be more vigorous in regulating the food industry’s efforts to sway kids? Sixty percent of respondents said it should, though just 26 percent expressed this opinion “strongly.” Thirty-six percent disagreed, including 16 percent who dissented strongly. There was greater support for limiting kid-targeted food advertising “to healthier foods that are lower in calories, fat and/or sugar,” with 73 percent supporting this concept strongly or somewhat.