The Junk Food Marketing Debate: A First Amendment Right or Just Making Sure Kids Aren’t What They Eat?

July 3, 2011 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Children's Issues, Public Health 
Photo by trp0 via flickr.

Photo by trp0 via flickr.

Remember the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 (H.R. 1105) that President Obama signed on March 11, 2009?   No?  Good, me neither, but my excuse is that I was busy applying to law schools.  If you and I had been paying closer/any (take your pick) attention, we would have seen that the Act included, among other things, a provision calling for the Federal Trade Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Agriculture to create an Interagency Working Group on Marketed Food to Children (“Working Group”) composed of representatives from each agency.  The Working Group would research and recommend standards for the marketing and advertising of food to children age 17 years and younger.   These recommendations would be presented to Congress down the road.

Well, a couple of years passed, but in April 2011 the Working Group released its 26-page “Preliminary Proposed Nutrition Principles to Guide Industry Self-Regulatory Efforts” for public comment (which you can submit by clicking here before July 14). The Working Group notes that

… in the FTC’s 2008 study on Marketing Food to Children and Adolescents, three food categories — breakfast cereal, restaurant foods, and snack foods — represented approximately 70% of food marketing expenditures directed to children under 12. Similarly, three categories of foods — carbonated beverages, restaurant foods, and non-carbonated beverages — represented 69% of the food marketing expenditures for adolescents ages 12-17 year….  [Overall] [t]he categories most heavily marketed to children and adolescents, ages 2 -17 years are: breakfast cereals; snack foods; candy; dairy products; baked goods; carbonated beverages; fruit juice and non-carbonated beverages; prepared foods and meals; frozen and chilled deserts; and restaurant foods. The Working Group is therefore recommending that the food industry focus its efforts on ensuring that any advertising or marketing of food products within these ten categories meet the nutrition principles set out below. (Emphasis added.)

The Working Group focuses on two nutritional principles “that both improve the nutritional quality of foods marketed to children and can be feasibly implemented by industry with sufficient time to accomplish reformulation,” namely, “Meaningful Contribution to a Healthful Diet” (Principle A)  and “Nutrients with Negative Impact on Health or Weight”  (Principle B).  Principle A ensures that foods marketed to children contain two or more of the following food groups: “fruit, vegetable, whole grain, fat-free or low-fat milk products, fish, extra lean meat or poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, or beans.”  Principle B ensures that foods marketed to children have limited amounts of saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and added sugars.  The Working Group makes sure to point out (several times in fact) that its recommendation are based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Really, this all sounds quite sensible, if not a little over-protective… but considering, as The Washington Post has reported, that Type 2 diabetes has significantly increased among people age 20 years and younger, what else can this country do to curb obesity and poor eating habits?  Even if we could reduce the cost of nutrient-rich and quality foods so that everyone could afford them, how do we neutralize the marketing of junk food to children?  In a report last month, NPR noted how

[the Working Group] broke from the past by seeking to include 12- to 17-year-olds in its guidelines. Traditionally, limits on marketing focused on the very young. But the government sought to expand them to older children, in part because they are heavy consumers of social media, cell phone messages and online games — the new frontier for ads.

That new frontier of advertising to children through online games — also known as “advergaming” (forgive my use of Wikipedia but Merriam-Webster doesn’t list the word) — includes Asylum 626 and Hotel 626, two advergames sponsored by Doritos.  As NPR reported,

“[w]hat we’re talking about are very complicated and very subtle forms of marketing that aren’t always clear as such,” says Kathryn Montgomery, a professor of communications at American University and an advocate for limiting food ads to teens.


Montgomery says such ads work subliminally and use friends to influence other friends.

But efforts to restrict ads to teens draw lots of opposition from the food and advertising industries. The industries say the overlap between teen and adult audiences makes the proposed restrictions impractical.

Critics, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have questioned the constitutionality and logic of the Working Group’s nutritional proposals.  The Hill’s Healthwatch has reported that some critics see a First Amendment issue because

“[w]hat they’re doing is trying to simultaneously … suppress speech, while insulating it from judicial review,” said Northwestern law Professor Martin Redish, one of the panelists at a Chamber of Commerce discussion Thursday. “Because if these regulations were truly just advisory, there would be no case or controversy.”


“Industry’s rights are being violated here,” Redish said, “but there’s something deeper and darker that’s going on: The government is treating us like sheep.”

While constrained to commercial speech, Redish said that attitude has broader implications. People, he said, “can’t be sheep in the commercial realm and then all of a sudden, in the political realm, they’re free-thinking adults who can make basic choices.”

NPR has reported that other critics question the logic behind the proposal and the implicated age range.

Elaine Kolish directs an industry-funded program called the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative. For the past five years this initiative sponsored its own voluntary standards that focus only on the 12-and-under set.

“You know, we let kids drive and we let them hold jobs when they’re 16. They can get married in some states, and they can join the military with permission, and they can be held criminally responsible for their actions in a number of situations,” she says. “So I think that the notion that you’d have to have nutrition standards that say you can’t let a kid see an ad for a french fry but you can let them join the military doesn’t really make a lot of sense.”

So where do we go from here?  Is industry self-regulation the answer to making products that better fit on MyPlate?  As I’ve noted in a previous post about McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, sometimes the answer can be stricter parenting (just say “no”).  Yet how can parents instill and maintain healthy eating habits in their kids when advertisements for unhealthy food bombard them through television, social media, and online games?


A Doctor Speaks About Healthcare, Big Business and Justice

September 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Health Reform, Medicaid 

[Ed. Note: We received today's post from Timothy Shaw, M.D. F.A.C.S. as a comment in response to a post, "Health Care and Disparity in a 'Post-Racial' Era."]

Photo by Eva the Weaver

Photo by Eva the Weaver

Twenty years ago, upon entering private medical practice for the first time it took me about a month to realize that the United States needed “Health Care Reform.” After serving the previous fifteen years in the US Army Medical Corps, I started my first civilian medical job. I was asked to come to a hospital by another surgeon to perform an ear operation on a 3 year old boy at the same time as he would be performing an eye operation. This would save the child from two anesthetics on two different days. Since I had never worked at that hospital, and apparently in order to set me straight from the start, one of the head doctors at this hospital, came up to me in the preoperative holding area, and boldly shoved the child’s chart in my face, pointed to the child’s insurance (Medicaid (Welfare)) and shamelessly told me, “if all you are going to do, is to bring this “****” in here, then we don’t need you to come here.” The poor little guy sitting in the corner with his Mom, was smiling at us with his cute partially toothless grin, and coke-bottle glasses. He didn’t realize what one of his doctors called him because of his health insurance coverage.

Again, several months later I was called to a different hospital (one that I normally did not work at either) in the same city by an operating nurse who asked if I took Medicaid “welfare patients.” She asked me if I would come to their operating room to take a coin out of a 2 year old child’s esophagus. She informed me that their hospital doctors in my specialty did not take welfare patients and they were looking for someone to do the operation as the child had choked on a coin. “Apparently someone forgot to screen this child’s insurance before he came to the operating room.” I canceled my clinic patients and drove across town, performed an esophagoscopy and removed the coin.

Obviously, the doctors in these above scenarios did not support “the Public Option” (Medicaid).

What had happened to our Health Care System? What had changed? Where was the honor that we had in the Army Medical Corps? We treated everyone from Generals to Privates and their families with the same respect. In accordance with Geneva Conventions, we even treated enemy soldiers during the Iraq War in our Combat Support Hospitals with the same care that we treated our own.

In a significant measure the United States Private Health System had changed into “Big Business.” In some measure the humanitarian emphasis had eroded.

Although spurning the pharmaceutical industry as “conflict of interest” entities, not suitable for proper patient care, surprisingly, doctors saw no apparent conflict of interest in merging with the Health Insurance Industry. Doctors and the Health Insurance Business became so closely aligned that their DNA intertwined to form a new species. This powerful new combined-arms team became the forme fruste of our new United States Health Care Industry. Doctors armed with new found business tactics, and the Health Insurance Industry armed with the legitimacy of the Doctor’s legal authority to limit health care to patients became the de facto United States Health Care System.

The business meeting replaced the medical conference to discuss “patient care” issues. To cope with the ever burgeoning bureaucracy, more and more doctors went into administration. More doctors have their MBA’s then carry black bags and make house calls. Mergers, Acquisitions, Expansions, Contracts, Covered Lives, Marketing Strategy, Demographics, Competition Threat Forecasts, Actuarial Science, and Health Insurance became the focus of many doctors. Time was spent on avoiding insurance business risk, trying to avoid the high risk patients, finding the better payer groups, etc. Hospitals became less hospitable. Doctor’s began to discharge patients so rapidly, that in the mid 1980′s the majority of States passed consumer protection laws (“Drive By Delivery Laws”) to protect mothers/newborns from being discharged from the hospital too soon.

Currently, the U.S. health care system is outrageously expensive, yet inadequate. Despite spending more than twice as much as the rest of the industrialized nations ($7,129 per capita), the United States performs poorly in comparison on major health indicators such as life expectancy, infant mortality and immunization rates. Read more


Senator Joseph Lieberman “Regrets Any Misunderstanding”

December 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Medicare, Proposed Legislation 

Senator Joseph Lieberman says that he “regrets any misunderstanding.” Lieberman, who according to NPR’s All Things Considered “has angered a lot of people,”  also said  “I thought I made myself clear all along.”

All Things Considered characterized Lieberman’s rejection of the Senate’s Gang of Ten Compromise as follows: Lieberman “rejected both an expansion of Medicare to cover uninsured people down to age 55, as well as its revamping of a Public Option so that users would be covered by private rather than government insurance.”

Joe Lieberman “regrets any misunderstanding.” All Thing Considered noted “But as critics were quick to point out, this was the same Joe Lieberman who told the Connecticut Post just three months ago that he’d been a supporter of expanding Medicare to age 55.”

Lieberman said, regarding the video we posted yesterday,

“I finally got to see that on TV last night and it looked to me like I was referring back to things I had supported in the past to make the point that though I was against the Public Option, I was not against health reform.”

And there you have it– just a big, “regrettable,” misunderstanding.

In addition, Senator Lieberman said: “I haven’t received any pressure from Insurance Companies. I mean it!”

And I believe him. One rarely pressures a man who does everything one wants.


Maybe Instead of a Dollar We Should Send Joe Lieberman Instructions on How to Use YouTube

December 14, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Medicare, Proposed Legislation 

A little while back Senator Joseph Lieberman stated that, seemingly contrary to his prior positions, he would not–and could not– support a bill which contained a public option–nor would he join in a vote to end a filibuster against the same. Relying heavily on the underlying analysis of Tim Noah, I opined at the time that perhaps we all needed to send Joe Lieberman a dollar so that he could vote his conscience as opposed to the will of Private Insurers: that the financial constraints involved in being an Independent (i.e., little or no infrastructural help from either the Democratic or Republican Parties) meant that Senator Lieberman, if he wished to continue being Senator Lieberman, would have to curry favor among donors to finance a bid for re-election.

I also noted that Chris Dodd, by virtue of his support for a public option and health reform in general, had alienated said Private Insurers and seemingly vacated his seat as “the Senator from Aetna.” I also noted that, as one might imagine, considering the sudden advent of available Aetna money, that a man (or Senator) from Aetna’s home town seeking money (such as Mr. Lieberman) might, somewhat understandably, look to align himself with the will and desires of that money. As much as it pains me to say, my antidote–sending Joe Lieberman a dollar with the words “Public Option” written on it– did not work. Sadly, the efforts of Yale students, who took a concilliatory approach in beseeching Senator Lieberman to back health reform, have seemingly not worked either.

Since then, Mr. Lieberman has come out in opposition to the plan to allow  people from 55-64 years old to buy into Medicare. Unfortunately for Mr. Lieberman, he seems to be unaware of YouTube as a means of chronicling statements made on video. Back when he was attempting to explain his desertion of the Public Option he said (thank you Merril Goozner) this:


Convergence on Health Reform (Death of the Public Option)

December 9, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Health Care Economics, Proposed Legislation 

tim-greaneyThomas (Tim) Greaney

Saint Louis University School of Law

So maybe the two parties are coming together on health reform after all.   Last night we learned that after days of “secret talks” among the “gang of ten” the Democrats have reached agreement to restructure their health care proposal.  The changes are significant:

  • ditch the already-watered-down public option plan;
  • create a new insurance exchange “option” for individuals and small groups consisting of a nonprofit plan as negotiated by the Office of Personnel Management;
  • expand Medicare eligibility to cover uninsured individuals aged 55-64.

What does the Democrats’ “public option ultralight” compromise have  in common with Republicans’ alternative universe?  Well, consider the latter’s proposal to open interstate competition for all health insurers–a move they promise will immediately lower health care costs.   Besides being shameless attempts to offer simple solutions to complex problems, the two proposals are guilty of the same fundamental misunderstanding of health insurance. Simply put, they both ignore a critical economic truth of health insurance today: insurers require a provider network of hospitals and doctors or must have market leverage in order to negotiate for lower provider prices and for controls on excessive volume.

How, then, would a nonprofit insurer not presently competing in one of the concentrated markets succeed in putting competitive pressure on the incumbents?  As one insurance industry observer put it ,

So, Kaiser Permanente, which operates with highly organized and capital intensive networks in its markets, would now come into a state where it has no networks and offer a plan? Blue Cross of Nebraska might offer an individual and small group plan in Rhode Island? Tufts Health Plan out of Boston might offer a plan in Oregon?

Based upon what network of providers in those places where they do not now do business?

Likewise, in expanding Medicare, the Dems are taking a page out of the Republican playbook. For the last several weeks,  Senate Republicans have been loudly touting the benefits of Medicare.  By their lights, not only does the program produce unmatched (and untouchable) health care services in terms of quality of care and beneficiary satisfaction, but any cost-cutting constitutes a betrayal of our commitment to seniors.  As far as one can tell, the expansion proposal will do just that: offer the now-sacrosanct program to a few million almost-seniors.  As to the other 20 million citizens, forced to shop for insurance through an exchange flawed by inadequate competition and inadequate subsidies? Well, maybe the Democrats will borrow the rhetoric of Republican National Chairman Michael Steele: this is no time for a “government-run health-care experiment.”


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