Reformers are working to change advertising laws in an effort to control childhood obesity rates

Carly Coen

At “Food Marketing and the Childhood Obesity Crisis,” a lecture emphasizing the facts behind obesity, Ellen Wartella, a professor of psychology, communication, human development and social policy at Northwestern University, emphasized the growing crisis and efforts to correct it.

One in three kids and teens in the United States is obese, according to the American Heart Association.

Wartella said she serves on panels, including the PBS Kids Next Generation Media Advisory Board, to minimize the number of advertisements for unhealthy packaged or processed foods, a critical source of cultural influence that can lead to childhood obesity.

“The whole issue has become much more prominent in the last few years,” Wartella said. “We’re seeing the first generation of children that might not live as long as their parents.”

At the event, the College of Communication presented her with the Wayne A. Danielson Award for Distinguished Contributions to Communication for her persistence in solving the growing crisis of childhood obesity in America. The talk was directed at students in the College of Communication in hopes that they could one day play a positive role in advertising healthier foods to combat obesity, Wartella said.

Public relations senior Enrique Garay said Wartella was correct when it comes to parents not understanding what is and is not essential to their child’s nutrition. Garay said his family meals growing up often included high-calorie foods that are part of his culture.

“I know what it feels like to be obese. Parents like mine don’t have the knowledge that some other households have about healthy eating habits,” Garay said.

Wartella’s suggestions for ending the child obesity crisis include reforms in the food and beverage advertising industry and limits on advertisements for unhealthy products. Radio-television-film professor Joseph Straubhaar said college students tend to forget they might be a parent in the future and what it means to live a healthy lifestyle.

“People in their teens and early 20s think they’re going to be healthy no matter what they do, but you still see obese people on campus,” Straubhaar said.

Wartella said a major problem is the steadily increasing minimum weight used to define obesity. She said the increasing proportion of obesity in the general population creates social acceptance of a health risk.

“As we get used to more people being overweight, we don’t think of being overweight as bad,” Wartella said. “Our definition of health just keeps slipping.”

Printed on Thursday, November 1, 2012 as: Child obesity increase proves major problem