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Advertising and Obesity

Advertising and Obesity

(Clicking any of the underlined text in blue will take you to a reference on it.)

I loved watching the London Olympic competition on NBC, not so much the advertisements. Coke-Cola had multiple ads celebrating its financial sponsorship of American Olympic teams for many decades, and for emphasis the red Coke can appeared beside American Olympians at press conferences. The message was that these beautiful, successful athletes drink Coke, so you should too.

The first ingredient listed on the red-can, “original formula,” 12-ounce Coke, after carbonated water, is “high fructose corn syrup.” The can helpfully adds that its contents will give you 39 grams of carbohydrates, which are all sugars, with no fat and no protein. So the can’s 140 calories are from high fructose corn syrup, a sugar which is harder for the body to use for energy than glucose sugar from fruit, and which lacks nutritional value. Kids and the rest of us must get the body’s building blocks from real food, and Coke isn’t that – it’s just calories and good taste.

Obesity is the condition of having too much body fat, enough excess fat so health is threatened, and is one of the leading preventable causes of death. Obesity results over time from taking in more calories than the body uses; it is often measured by the Body Mass Index (BMI), a ratio between height and weight, with the mortality rate statistically lowest at a BMI of 20 to 25. In the United States obesity, defined as BMI above 30, is estimated to cause more than 100,000 deaths per year, with long term obesity reducing life expectancy by five years if not more.

Recognizing that America is experiencing an explosion of childhood obesity which often continues into adulthood, some states have passed laws to curb sales of junk food and sweetened drinks in schools. The journal “Pediatrics” has just released a study based on 6,300 students in 40 states which found that children in states with laws discouraging junk calories gained less weight from fifth through eighth grades than children in states without such laws. That’s good, but kids spend most of their time away from school, and junk food and high-sugar drink messages are are beamed to them every day.

Starting almost 50 years ago, the federal government recognized that tobacco smoking damages health and began compelling cigarette producers to limit advertising and to label products as hazardous. We need to begin a like journey discouraging consumption of excess sugar calories that are making too many of us too fat.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has already taken initial steps on such a campaign, outlawing trans fat and limiting the size of sugary drinks.  Mr. Bloomberg recognizes the risks of soda, such as according to Dr. Walter Willett of Harvard Medical School, “Soda in large amounts is metabolically toxic.” NBC and the American Olympic Committee can give that journey a boost by finding sponsorship money from more corporations that turn out healthful products.

Image by Jeffrey O. Gustafson at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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