In Review: 2011 Childhood Obesity Conference, Part 2

The following is a guest post from Elizabeth Brotherton of PreventObesity.net reviewing the final day of the recent Childhood Obesity Conference held in San Diego, CA. More photos from the event can be found on their Facebook page. You can see Part 1 of the conference review here.

Get ready to sweat.

If there was one message out of last month’s 6th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference, it was that solving obesity won’t be solved with one big fix. It’s going to require significant policy change on the federal, state and local level, doing everything from promoting healthier food and beverages to increasing physical activity and the monumental task of getting people to spend less time in their cars. And it’s going to be an effort that will take a decade or more.

But as mentioned in the last post, the topic du joir was food marketing, as panelists and participants alike brainstormed ways to curb the influence that food and beverage companies have on children. The problem, the experts seemed to agree, is that marketing has become so powerful and prevalent that even the most active and involved parents have a difficult time combating it.

I was particularly struck by the words of Dr. Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, who appeared on a panel about advertising to children, alongside other policy pros like Dale Kunkel of the University of Arizona and Kelly Brownell of the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University.

Wootan was able to spout out plenty of interesting statistics about food marketing to kids — mainly that advertisers hawk all the unhealthy stuff and don’t bother pushing nutritious items — but I was moved by her own experiences as a mom. Being a nutrition expert, Wootan worked to ensure her daughter wasn’t exposed to fast food… but it was in vain.

“Even before my little girl was watching television, she was talking about… that hamburger place with the clown has,” Wootan said, referring McDonald’s. “And then her cousins taught her that they also have French fries.”

Wootan noted that studies show that kids need to push their nine times for something before exhausted moms or dads finally give in. Advertisers know that, which is why they push so hard for kids to know about their products.

The beverage industry also was the focus of the last day of the conference, as experts presented evidence showing the growing influence of the soft drink industry during the past decade. During one soda-focused session, Harold Goldstein of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy screened this classic Pepsi ad featuring Michael Jackson (and a young Alfonzo Ribeiro from “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”). The infamous ad features Jackson singing his song “Billie Jean” with the rewritten lyrics “You’re the Pepsi Generation/guzzle down and taste the thrill of the day/and feel the Pepsi way.”

The ad, Goldstein noted, is a clear marker of a “whole new generation” addicted to soda — and significantly more obese.

Brownell also spoke on the soda-themed panel (seriously, that guy was everywhere) and said that while targeting soda might not be the only solution to reversing obesity, “it’s a good place to start.”

“I think we are going to win this, but it’s not going to be easy,” Brownell added.

The conference wrapped up with a keynote panel on social media, which included a few words from my boss, PreventObesity.net co-founder Marty Kearns. Marty and the other participants pushed the 300 or so folks who stayed until the last moments of the conference to really embrace social media as a way to get their message to others, and present relevant data in new and interesting ways.

It’s more than just tweets, they agreed; it’s about using technology to present material to people in ways that effects them and spurs them to act.


Elizabeth Brotherton is a senior writer and editor for PreventObesity.net. She is tasked with creating original content for the project, including on its blog and weekly newsletter, The Inside Track. Brotherton previously wrote the “Heard on the Hill” column for Roll Call and has written for a number of publications, including the Orange County Register, Press-Enterprise and the Almanac of the Unelected.

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