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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance
larly, young people are major consumers of the products and services of the entertainment, leisure, and recreation industries.
Providing young consumers and their families with the knowledge and skills to make informed and prudent choices in these marketplaces could be a key obesity prevention strategy. Industry continuously develops new products and services in response to changing consumer demand, and its primary emphases—sales trends, marketing opportunities, product appeal, and expanding market share for specific product categories and product brands (Datamonitor, 2002; U.S. Market for Kids’ Foods and Beverages, 2003)—could be profitably shifted toward healthier and more active lifestyles.
Although the private sector has not historically viewed its responsibility as changing consumers’ preferences toward healthier choices, changes are under way that acknowledge the essential role that industry may play in related policy dialogues, public/private partnerships, and research (Crockett et al., 2002).
The increased media coverage of childhood obesity in recent years, and the consequent growth in public attention and potential for litigation have sensitized the food and beverage industries to examine the underlying causes of the problem and learn from the tobacco industry experiences (Daynard, 2003; Appendix D). Moreover, it provides an opportunity for many types of industries (e.g., food, beverage, entertainment, recreation) to explore new marketing opportunities (Datamonitor, 2002). To the extent that consumers want to purchase and consume a healthful diet, engage in physical activity, and maintain energy balance, private industry not only has a profit incentive but a public relations incentive to help them meet that goal and demonstrate that industry can be responsive to public concerns.
The committee recognizes that children, youth, and their adult care providers are immersed in a modern milieu, including a commercial environment that could be shaped to encourage behaviors relevant to preventing obesity (Peters et al., 2002). Consumers may initially be unsure about what to eat for good health. They often make immediate trade-offs in taste, cost, and convenience for longer term health (Wansink, 2004). But numerous opportunities for influencing consumers’ purchase decisions present themselves as the food and beverage industries develop, package, label, promote, distribute, and price products and as retail food stores, full-service restaurants, and fast food establishments make similar sets of decisions. Each of these points offers opportunities for influencing consumers’ purchase decisions.
Developing healthier food and beverage products or serving smaller portion sizes may be viewed by some private-sector businesses as risks rather than as opportunities; making changes in the absence of broad-based consumer demand, whatever the market, conceivably can be seen as a risk