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Avatar and Arkansas Ads Impact Childhood Obesity

The blockbuster movie Avatar imagines life in 2154. And there is no sign of a McDonald’s. So why does the movie’s marketing promote Big Macs to teen fans? Last month, the Federal Trade Commission took steps to stop advertising like this from contributing to childhood obesity. But another ad targeting Arkansas youths could help reverse the epidemic.

girl with fruitIn December, the Federal Trade Commission and other government agencies proposed children’s food marketing standards. The Interagency Working Group’s draft guidelines suggest restricting advertising aimed at children that promotes foods and beverages that contain high levels of sugar, sodium, and saturated fat.

The draft standards were unveiled as McDonald’s ramped up its Avatar marketing campaign, which uses TV advertising, in-store displays, and an online video game to promote high-fat burgers to young fans of the highly anticipated science-fiction film. Customers purchasing Big Macs—which derive almost half their calories from fat—will receive access to an online Avatar game created by McDonald’s. Food and beverage companies spend $1.6 billion a year advertising to children, according a 2008 FTC report.

“The Avatar Big Mac promotion is the nutritional equivalent of throwing an anvil to a drowning man,” says Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., PCRM’s nutrition director. “America’s teenagers are losing the battle against obesity. We desperately need marketing guidelines that will give them a fighting chance at making wise food choices.”

But fast-food marketing isn’t the only culprit contributing to the percentage of overweight and obese children that is now at or above 30 percent in 30 states.

Last month, Arkansas physicians called on Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., to help schools serve more fruits, vegetables, and vegetarian foods. Sadia Malik, M.D., M.P.H., and Tara Hickman, N.M.D., delivered PCRM’s Healthy School Lunches petition with more than 111,000 signatures to Sen. Lincoln’s office.

During the petition delivery, Dr. Malik, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Arkansas, and Dr. Hickman, who specializes in pediatric medicine, emphasized how federal policies, especially the Child Nutrition Act, could be revised to fight our nation’s high rates of diet-related diseases and the resulting stress on our health care system.

The Senate Agriculture Committee, chaired by Sen. Lincoln, will soon take up the Child Nutrition Act, which regulates the National School Lunch Program and other federal nutrition programs. Current federal policies that subsidize agribusiness end up pushing schools to serve high-fat, high-cholesterol foods that contribute to skyrocketing obesity and diabetes rates.

In conjunction with the petition delivery, the daughter of Montel Williams, Wyntergrace Williams, backed the message in the “School Lunch Revolution” television commercial that aired on Little Rock’s ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX affiliates.

To watch the “School Lunch Revolution” commercial and sign the petition asking Congress to help schools serve students more healthy school lunches, visit HealthySchoolLunches.org.

 

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Susan Levin, M.S., R.D.
Susan Levin, M.S., R.D.


PCRM Online, January 2010

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