PETER JENNINGS, anchor:
Today, in the United States, nearly two-thirds of the population is overweight. Almost one in three Americans is obese. And no one wants to be. Americans want to be thinner. And yet, old and young Americans are getting fatter and fatter and fatter. We all think it's our own fault. It is not that simple. The food industry is also at fault.
Mr. MICHAEL JACOBSON (Center for Science in the Public Interest): We're besieged wherever we go. We're encouraged to eat junk food.
JENNINGS: And the government is at fault.
Professor MARION NESTLE (Prof. Food Policy, New York Univ.): We have government policies that promote overeating, from the beginning to the end of the food chain.
JENNINGS: Tonight, we will tell you how the government and the food industry have helped to make America fat. Now, we know that blaming the government, because so many people are overweight, way overweight, in many cases, will be rejected by those who say that personal health and well being are a matter of personal responsibility. We were inclined to that point of view. But this project has proved to us that the processed food industry and the government know full-well what is happening. And they are making a bad situation worse.
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JENNINGS: We went, first, to the farmlands of America, where the food chain begins. During the harvest season here, fertile soil and hard work pay off, with an agricultural abundance that feeds the nation and the world. And here in Millersport, Ohio, people celebrate the harvest in a traditional way. The Millersport Sweet Corn Festival attracts 50,000 people to the music, the pageants and, of course, the corn. This is a celebration of American agriculture.
Senator BLANCHE LAMBERT LINCOLN (Democrat, Arkansas): We, as Americans, spend less of our disposable income on food than anybody else on the face of this globe. And it's because our farmers are very efficient. They've worked with our government to be able to, not only be efficient and effective in what they do, but also produce an incredible product.
Professor JIM TILLOTSON (Tuffs University, Prof. Food Policy): It's the first time in mankind's history that you don't have to worry about food. We're the envy of the world with our agricultural system.
JENNINGS: But the story of American agriculture is also one of unintended consequences. Today, American farmers produce for domestic consumption, vastly more food than America needs. Nearly twice as much. And the more food we grow, the more we eat. Abundance has become the enemy.
Prof. NESTLE: When I first started studying nutrition, it never occurred to me that I would need to know anything at all about agriculture. Now, I see it as the basis of everything having to do with nutrition. If you want to understand why people eat the way they do, you need to understand the way agriculture works in this country.
JENNINGS: To begin with, agriculture works in America through farm subsidies. During the depression in the 1930s, government began subsidizing farmers to save them from financial ruin. The money never stopped. This year, government will put roughly $20 billion into agriculture, most of it directly to the farmers. And not many people in the government have made the connection between subsidies to agriculture and obesity. But there is one. And it's very important.
Does the government take dietary guidelines and nutritional concerns into consideration when it's making the grants?
Mr. JACOBSON: There's no concern whatsoever. There's no link between agricultural subsidies and health. In fact, we've been trying to find analyses of what is the health impact of farm subsidies. We can't find a single study. Congress, the administration, is handing out these subsidies without knowing what is the ultimate impact on their constituents, the American public?
JENNINGS: The Bush administration's man in charge of public health is Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.
Do you see any connection between the federal government's agricultural subsidy programs and nutrition?
Secretary TOMMY THOMPSON (Health and Human Services): I really don't. The subsidy programs are things that are done through Congress, much more so than trying to come up with an overall strategy, as far as nutrition is concerned.
JENNINGS: Well, do you see a connection between the money, which government gives to agriculture and nutrition? Do you see a connection?
Sec. THOMPSON: There's no question that if you have money out there and subsidizing particular things, that product is going to be grown more. And some of the products are not good for nutrition. If that's what you're asking me, yes.
JENNINGS: This is the food pyramid, the government's guide to good nutrition, what we should be eating. Less of what's on top sugars, fats. Then, meats and dairy. And more of what's on the bottom grains and fresh fruits and vegetables.
Of the total amount of money that supports American agriculture, how much of that money goes towards fruits and vegetables, production and promotion?
Mr. TOM STENZEL (United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Assoc.): You'd have to look at the percentage, as less than one
Mr. STENZEL: Minimal. Minimal products.
JENNINGS: We wanted to see what the food pyramid looked like if it reflected where the government farm subsidies actually end up. Look at this. Since 1995, meat and dairy got three-times the subsidies of grains. According to data from the Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Working Group, sugars, fats, the foods the government says we should eat least, got 20-times more subsidies than fruits and vegetables.
Mr. STENZEL: There's a disconnect between agriculture policy and health policy. That's probably the biggest problem that the federal government faces. We don't look at how agricultural policy can help improve public health. It's strictly about subsidies.
JENNINGS: And does government know this?
Mr. STENZEL: Government knows it. I'm not sure that government, at the moment, knows what to do about it. How do you undo government policy that has not been focused on health and nutrition, but is focused on subsidizing farmers?
JENNINGS: The most heavily-subsidized crop in America is corn. Farmers plant nearly 80 million acres of corn. And in the last five years, they got $5.5 billion in subsidies every year.
When most of us think of corn, we do tend to think of the sweet corn they're eating here at the festival. But there is another way to think of corn not as corn on the cob, but as cheap, raw material for the giant food industry.
Mr. JACOBSON: The vast majority of corn is feed corn. It's fed to chickens, hogs and especially cattle. That corn helps these animals grow faster, fatter and holds down the costs of meat. That encourages Americans to eat more meat.
JENNINGS: Of course, beef cattle were never intended to eat corn. And so, they have to be given all sorts of antibiotics to keep them healthy. Subsidized corn is everywhere. The whole food system has been, as someone said, cornified. Corn is processed and put into thousands of products that Americans use every day.
If you want to see more directly how farm subsidies can lead to obesity, there's no better place than your local theater. The popcorn you eat here is made with subsidized corn. The popcorn is so inexpensive that the bag it comes in costs more than the popcorn. That's why you can buy the megasize for a few pennies more. The oil they cook it is in subsidized, too. So is the oil they put on top. That is not usually butter but subsidized vegetable oil. And there's corn in the soda. A corn derived sweetener called high fructose corn syrup. Since the 1970s, its use has gone up more than 4,000 percent, subsidized corn sweeteners, which have pretty much taken over from sugar, are in candy and pretzels and hotdogs, too.
Here's something else to know about obesity, Americans consume nearly three-times more corn in the form of corn sweeteners than they do in every other form.
Prof. NESTLE: Corn is the principle source of sweeteners in the American diets. What the subsidies do is to lower the cost of the ingredients that go in processed foods, particularly high-calorie processed foods and they make those foods cheaper.
JENNINGS: Currently the government subsidizes corn, corn, corn and more corn. And very little fresh fruits and vegetables.
Sec. THOMPSON: But corn is a staple that's not only used for food. It's also used for the tremendous animal industry we have in this country. So, it's important that corn continues to grow in America.
JENNINGS: Do you believe we should plant less corn and more fruits and vegetables?
Sec. THOMPSON: Well, that you can't make that determination from Washington, D.C.
Prof. NESTLE: The government already controls the way food is grown, processed and consumed in this country. There are already government policies that are involved in every aspect of the food chain, from production to consumption. We want the government to be involved in personal eating behavior in a more healthful way.
JENNINGS: Here's another example of a massive government subsidy which contributes to obesity, soybeans. Most of the soy that people eat is not in its healthy form, such as soy protein, but in the form of oil, including cooking oil and margarine. Soybean oil is the largest source of added fats in the American diet. As for fruits and vegetables? If Americans were to follow a healthy diet, the department of agriculture says that nearly twice the number of acres of fruits and vegetables would have to be planted.
Why do you think fruits and vegetables do get so little support from the federal government?
Mr. STENZEL: Oh, I guess, you could say, our lobbyists aren't as good. Maybe we haven't had the tradition.
JENNINGS: Do you mean that? Other aspects, other divisions of the food industry are better lobbyists than you?
Mr. STENZEL: We've not had traditional subsidy programs. So, there's not an in-grained group in Congress, that's there fighting for the program, fighting for the fruit and vegetable program.
Prof. NESTLE: We're talking about huge agra-business companies that own hundreds of thousands of acres. And these are, of course, the people who give the largest campaign contributions to members of Congress.
JENNINGS: It does make you think twice about all the symbols of agricultural abundance that we see in the nation's capitol. A reminder of how important subsidies are in the political system and how hard it will be to change that. Whatever the impact on the nation's health.
Do you hold the Congress accountable for subsidizing the wrong foods?
Sec. THOMPSON: No, I do not. That is a decision that Congress makes. And I'm not going to criticize Congress on the decisions they make, as far as food products.
JENNINGS: Why do you think no one in government has made the connection between agricultural policy and obesity?
Sec. THOMPSON: I really don't think it's as you have stated it, Peter, I don't think there's any direct correlation out there that agriculture policy has been set up in some insidious way to subsidize things that will be bad for our health.
JENNINGS: I didn't suggest it would insidious. I'm suggesting that there is a policy that government subsidizes more food, which you would say, as the country's leading health office is bad for us, and subsidizes less those foods, which you would tell us is are good for us and we should eat.
Sec. THOMPSON: And that's also been throughout the ages. Congress has made those decisions. They're political ones, as you know, Peter. And I don't think you're going to change the political arena, as subsidized agriculture in America in the near future.
JENNINGS: Well, the secretary's probably right. But with so many voters in the country, desperately trying to lose weight, you might think some clever politician might devise an "I'll make you thinner" platform. It would at least question for the first time, how federal agricultural policy helps to make us fat. We'll be back in just a minute.
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JENNINGS: Americans probably don't think very much about government food policies when they're in the supermarket. But maybe they should.
Prof. NESTLE: The cheapness of the food ingredients encourages the food industry to produce processed foods that sit on supermarket shelves, have very cheap ingredients and can be sold at high prices because they're branded.
Mr. JACOBSON: Processed foods are made of a mixture of sugar, water, flour, starch, fat, artificial coloring and flavorings. And you can make almost anything out of that. Puddings, snack foods, beverages. Those are dirt-cheap to produce. The food is nothing. It's the processing. That's where the profits are.
JENNINGS: A typical supermarket may have 30,000, 40,000, 50,000 products. Most of it processed food made with government subsidized ingredients. In 2002, supermarkets sold $174 billion worth of processed food.
Mr. JIM TELLATIN (Prof., Former Ocean Spray Employee): Food industry has pushed on mass distribution of low-cost products. That's their strategy.
JENNINGS: Jim Tellatin is a professor. But in the 1970s, he worked for the Ocean Spray Company.
(Clip of Ocean Spray Commercial: For years, my favorite drink was orange juice. But cranberry juice cocktail is a smashing new taste.)
JENNINGS: Tellatin figured out how to make more money by replacing expensive ingredients in Ocean Spray products, like real fruit juice, without people noticing.
Mr. TELLATIN: You could make a drink that was very good, more inexpensively, by using some fruit juice, sugar and water and a very fine flavor system and people couldn't tell the difference.
JENNINGS: Since sugar was expensive, Tellatin turned to that expensive subsidized corn sweetener, high fructose corn syrup.
Mr. TELLATIN: We were able to reduce the price and be profitable. As a matter of fact, at the time I bought my wife a Volvo. And we refer to it as the sugar wagon because my bonus came from being able to save the company a lot of money using high fructose corn syrup. People asked me, weren't you concerned about eventually that people would get fat from this? Never crossed our mind. Absolutely never crossed our mind.
JENNINGS: With obesity on our minds, we went to the Food Marketing Institute's annual convention in Chicago. This is where the packaged food industry unveils its new products. All those subsidized farm ingredients are being turned into products like these.
Unidentified Man #1 (Convention Goer): There's half a pound of meat in each jar.
Unidentified Woman #1 (Convention Goer): Microwaves in six minutes.
Unidentified Woman #2 (Convention Goer): These are interactive beverages.
Unidentified Man #2 (Convention Goer): It actually is a product designed to emulated chewing tobacco.
Unidentified Woman #3 (Convention Goer): It's a Latino inspired beverage.
JENNINGS: We couldn't believe what we were seeing here thousands of new products.
Unidentified Man #3 (Convention Goer): Yoohoo is like an everyday sort of thing, three or four times a day. Your yoohoo double fudge is more like a dessert.
Unidentified Woman #4 (Convention Goer): Free samples. We're giving them away today.
JENNINGS: While a lot of the products look familiar to us, everyone was telling us that they had the newest thing.
Unidentified Woman #5 (Convention Goer): We have over 100 new products.
Unidentified Man #4 (Convention Goer): It's Sprite with a little tropical flavor. And for us, that sense of newness.
JENNINGS: When you look at all the products introduced by the industry in recent years, one thing is absolutely clear: the vast majority are foods that Americans should be eating less.
Unidentified Man #3: Meal, dessert. So, it's like your post-Yoohoo, Yoohoo.
Mr. JACOBSON: If you look at the new foods being that marketed each year, probably 90 percent of them are packaged foods, often junk foods. The tip of the food pyramid, what you should eat less of.
JENNINGS: Last year, there were more than 2,800 now candies, desserts, ice creams and snacks. And 230 new fruit or vegetable products.
When we were looking at the mix of products your industry has introduced in the last years, it looks like you're giving people a greater choice of food which government mostly thinks are unhealthy for them. And less choice of those that are healthy for them.
Mr. CHIP KUNDE (Grocery Manufacturers of America): I think the food industry is providing a wide variety of choice. And certainly, if you look at some of the recent market trends, you're seeing a major increase. And the good for you foods category.
JENNINGS: Well, here's what we found of all the products introduced last year, thousands of them, only 131 of them even claim to be reduced or low in calories. And the more of these top of the pyramid, low-nutrition, high-calorie foods they introduce, the more of them we eat.
Professor BARRY POPKIN (Prof. Nutrition, UNC At Chapel Hill): In the 60s and 70s, we consumed healthy snacks. Kids consumed milk, we consumed fruit. We consumed what you would think of is really good foods. What's changed in the last decade is we're consuming high-fat, salty snacks. That could be tortilla chips or potato chips, it could candy and desserts and so forth. We've really changed the nature of what we call a snack.
Mr. RICK BURMAN (Center for Consumer Freedom): You can go into any grocery store, into any restaurant. You can buy the diet soda if you want to. You can buy the low-fat alternatives. You can by the smaller portion if you want to.
JENNINGS: Rick Burman runs the Center for Consumer Freedom, funded by the restaurant industry. They have been running advertisements criticizing those that criticize the food industry.
(Clip of Center for Consumer Freedom Commercial)
Mr. BURMAN: What the food companies are doing is just responding to consumer demand.
JENNINGS: Is it, as far as you're concerned, entirely a matter of personal choice and not at all a matter of marketing?
Mr. KUNDE: Ultimately, it is a matter of personal choice. We can't dictate what people choose to eat. Yes, at some point, what people choose to eat or how they choose to move is ultimately the issue here.
JENNINGS: Of course, what you eat is a personal decision. The overweight and obesity epidemics are a result of people choosing to eat more, eat larger portions and eat more often. Americans are choosing foods with more sweeteners and more calories. They're drinking more sodas, eating more candy, and snacking all day long.
Don't you think the food industry is simply giving people the products they want?
Prof. NESTLE: I don't think that you can talk about giving the public what the public wants, without discussing the $33 billion a year that the food industry spends to try to promote that kind of want. If you were going to design a strategy to try to get people to eat more food, you make food more convenient. You would make it ubiquitous. You would encourage people to eat more frequently, on more different eating occasions. And you'd encourage them to eat larger portions. And all of those are deliberate strategies to sell more food.
JENNINGS: In the last 20 years, you have increased the size of your products. You have increased the number of products you introduce. You have increased the marketing of your products. Are these not strategies designed to get people to eat more?
Mr. KUNDE: No. They're strategies to respond to what people's needs are today. I think the industry is acting very responsibly to bring the products to market in a responsible way. And to make sure that what they're offering, fits into people's healthy diets.
JENNINGS: Americans talk a lot about being fit and thinner. Americans spend billions of dollars every year on diets and exercise. There are thousands of exercise videos, machines, gadgets, gimmicks all designed to help us lose the weight we put on by eating too much. And for the food industry, exercise is a convenient answer to obesity.
Mr. KUNDE: I think people do need to exercise more. And not just exercise. When you think of exercise, it often seems like it's more than you can fit into your very busy day. But you can pick small steps.
Mr. JACOBSON: Obesity's not going to be solved through sheer physical activity. The food industry would like to blame everything on lack of exercise. Eat as much as you want, exercise it off. Ride a bike or play basketball with your kid. We should do that. But that's only part of the battle.
JENNINGS: And here is why: you have to jog for 15 minutes to burn just one ounce of potato chips. You have to bike for an hour to burn the calories in this soda. And this super size meal at McDonald's has so many calories, you have to walk for six hours to burn it off. It is hard to see how exercise alone is the solution to obesity. And one food company appears to get it.
Mr. MICHAEL MUDD (Senior V.P., Kraft): We need to be part of the solution. We need to try to make a difference here.
JENNINGS: If you need to be part of the solution, does this mean you're part of the problem?
Mr. MUDD: I think food is part of the problem.
JENNINGS: Michael Mudd is a senior vice president at Kraft, the largest American food processor. They make Triscuits and Oreos and Oscar Mayer products, among other things.
What do you think the right policy, do you think it has as its bottom line, eat less?
Mr. MUDD: If you ask the question, should America be eating less? Definitely, we should be eating less, especially if we're not going to increase our activity.
Mr. KUNDE: We would not support a move to eat less because that's not going to solve the problem. Simply suggesting to people that you eat less food, really, is, I think it's not the approach to take.
JENNINGS: Given what you do for a living, isn't that rather self-serving?
Mr. KUNDE: Our message is, eat a balanced diet, eat foods on the top of the pyramid in moderation and get activity in your life.
JENNINGS: Kraft's approach is different. The company has proposed a wholesale review of all their products in marketing because they know obesity is an epidemic.
Mr. MUDD: What we'll do is go category by category, product by product, to look for small but meaningful opportunities to improve the nutrition.
JENNINGS: What's the definition of "meaningful"?
Mr. MUDD: Let's say I have a reduced fat product that takes five grams versus the original and 10 people choose that product. So, in a population wide basis, we've saved 50 grams of fat. But if I take the regular version of that product, and I remove one gram of fat and I do it in a way that doesn't affect the taste. And now, 90 people choose that product, on a population-wide basis, I've saved 90 grams of fat. That's my definition of a meaningful change.
JENNINGS: In other words, making every product a little healthier would have an effect on more people. Public health experts say it could help if Kraft follows through. But counting on voluntary measures by the food industry to improve the American diet is something of a gamble. After all, their job is to sell more food. And it's hard to imagine the companies sacrificing their profits for the benefits of public health.
Prof. NESTLE: What the food companies are worried about now is that there will be a public backlash against their products. So, they're all scrambling to try to figure out what they're going to do. If the public starts eating less that's going to be bad for business. And there's no getting around that.
Mr. TELLATIN: Eat less means that we're not going to buy as much product. Goes all the way down the chain. The supermarkets, the restaurants, the food manufacturers, agriculture. We're not going to eat as much product. And that's going to be a very difficult lesson to get through.
JENNINGS: We have said, from the outset, that the processed food industry is very smart. And will adapt, as it sees fit, when there is public pressure. Look at all low-fat products they've introduced. Trouble is, when the companies take out the fat, they often put in more sweeteners, which means more calories. Since all those products with reduced fat came on the market, Americans have actually put on more weight.
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JENNINGS: Selling food is a huge business. And behind every ad campaign is a food stylist.
Unidentified Woman #6 (Food Stylist): We use margarine most of the time because of the color.
JENNINGS: These are the people who make food look irresistible in the advertising.
Unidentified Woman #6: These drinks look better than real life.
JENNINGS: At the food stylist convention in Minneapolis, we looked at what it takes to make cereal look perfect. That's hair tonic they're using instead of milk, which might wilt the cereal.
Unidentified Woman #6: My recipe for fake ice cream.
JENNINGS: This isn't ice cream, it's Crisco shortening.
Unidentified Woman #6: They can use big scoops, little scoops. You can play with this all day long.
JENNINGS: food styling makes the ads look great. And they can be very seductive. The food industry spends $34 billion a year to market their products. And these particular ads, who do you think they are designed for? It is estimated that the food industry spent $12 billion last year promoting they want children to eat. It is twice what they spent 10years ago.
Mr. PAUL KURNIT (Advertising Executive): Kids are a very dynamic audience.
JENNINGS: Paul Kurnit is an advertising executive who specializes in marketing to children.
Why is so much time and money spent advertising to children?
Mr. KURNIT: Kids are, in many ways, unsocialized. They are fresh-eyed. They are open to new ideas. Kids are big business. There's no question about that.
JENNINGS: Most of the food that is advertised to children is processed food. And it is exactly what children are buying. Children spend more of their own money on food than anything else. More than on CDs or movies or clothes or toys. And the public health implications of children's diets are enormous.
Ms. MARGO WOOTAN (Center for Science in the Public Interest): The problem is that most of the foods that are marketed to children are unhealthy foods. And the children are exposed to so many messages about junk food that the cultural norm around food has changed. So that children think that they should be getting candy and cookies and chips and soda and these other junky foods all the time.
JENNINGS: The average American child sees 10,000 food advertisements a year on television alone. Most of those advertisements are for fast food, sugar-coated cereal, softs and food food dense in fat and calories. These are your members, are you happy to hear those statistics?
Mr. KUNDE: I think companies are trying to market their products responsibly. If you look at the categories that are there, it's not all the foods available all the time advertised on television.
JENNINGS: They're not advertising fruits and vegetables on television.
Mr. KUNDE: They're advertising other options for cereal on television and other snack products, as well.
Mr. JACOBSON: They're baby food desserts. Maybe that's where it starts. When kids are two years old, they gain the strength to turn on the television set. And they see the constant stream of commercials. Then, they go to school. And even in schools, there are encouragements to eat junk food.
JENNINGS: When you're putting together an advertising campaign, do you care whether the product is healthy or not?
Mr. KURNIT: I care that the product has a positive role in a child's life. It is not my fundamental responsibility to be sure that that product, in and of itself, fulfills a complete diet.
JENNINGS: Have you played a role in making less-healthy products appeal to children, thereby increasing their desire for those products?
Mr. KURNIT: I played a role in making all kinds of products appealing to kids. And the issue of less-healthy is a judgment call that you can make.
JENNINGS: But you know what's less healthy. You know where asparagus and soda pop line up.
Mr. KURNIT: You're absolutely correct. I'm not going to get the same return on investment for a client advertising asparagus and spinach to kid as advertising some of these so-called less health products to kids. Guilty as charged.
JENNINGS: Have you noticed how most food is marketed to kids, directly to kids? They put cartoon characters all over the packages including from Disney, the parent company of ABC NEWS. They turn candy into breakfast cereal. They encourage kids to eat junk food in school. And they tell kids they can win money if they buy certain foods. They probably won't get a lot of money. But if children eat them, they will get a lot of calories. If you're the parent of a small child, we can almost guarantee they're asking you to buy some of this. That's what the industry wants kids to do.
Prof. NESTLE: Parents that I talk to, who have young children, tell me that the last thing in the world they want to argue with their kids about is food. And the marketers know that. And so, they deliberately target the advertising to generate what they call a nag factor. My kids, for example, pestered me endlessly to buy Lucky Charms cereal, which is the one we had the most fights over when they were young. And every now and then, I'd let them get it. It was too much trouble arguing with them.
JENNINGS: And here is something ironic the people who make the ads often blame parents for not protecting children from the effects of the advertising that they've created.
Mr. KURNIT: More often than not, children who nag their parents to buy them any kind of product, are children and parents in whom the relationship is fundamentally flawed.
JENNINGS: Sounds a little bit like you're criticizing the parents for not doing a good enough job.
Mr. KURNIT: I am. I think there's a parental abdication of responsibility and limits of in terms of what is appropriate for their kids.
Ms. WOOTAN: If companies think that parents should be making decisions about their children's food, they should market child-oriented food products to parents. But they don't. They're bypassing the parents. And they're talking directly to our kids. And trying to get our kids to nag us to buy their unhealthy products.
JENNINGS: Children's diets are clearly influenced by all this advertising.
Prof. POPKIN: There is so much research to show that what you show children on TV affect their intake. And the amount of children's TV that's dominated by food. And the total amount of our TV budget that's dominated by food commercials is enormous.
JENNINGS: All the marketing to children is feeding an epidemic of childhood obesity. Fifteen of all children between six and 19 are overweight or obese. That is nearly nine million children. Many children already show signs of the serious diseases that result from being overweight.
Ms. WOOTAN: Our children eat so badly nowadays, that one-quarter of elementary school-aged children already have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or some other risk factor for heart disease. These are little kids. And they already are on their way to a heart attack.
Prof. NESTLE: Very young children are now showing signs of Type-2 diabetes, a terrible disease, that was never seen in such young children before.
JENNINGS: The diet of many American children may already be condemning them to a lifetime of illness.
Mr. JACOBSON: Why are we allowing companies to market junk foods to young children? It's like having door-to-door sales people knock on the door and say, I'd like to talk to your young child, alone, if you don't mind. And then, encourage the kid to eat junk food. No parent would ever allow that.
JENNINGS: Is there any way to stop this? When we come back.
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JENNINGS: This is where the food industry learns how to sell to children.
Unidentified Woman #7 (C&R Research): Who else likes chips? Who else eats chips as a snack?
JENNINGS: This is part of a paid focus group at C&R Research in Chicago.
Unidentified Woman #7: If I eat this, I will feel how, because why?
JENNINGS: These researchers want to learn what makes kids want to eat certain foods.
Unidentified Woman #7: Did you try the colored ketchup?
Unidentified Child #1 (Participant): No.
Unidentified Woman #7: You didn't try it? Why not?
Unidentified Child #1: It looked disgusting.
JENNINGS: And on the other side of the one-way mirror, the researchers are gathering data that will help food companies to tailor their food to children.
Ms. WOOTAN: Children are more susceptible to marketing than adults are. They don't understand the intent of marketing. They don't understand that a marketer may exaggerate claims or isn't completely truthful. Or that someone is trying to sell them something.
JENNINGS: Study after study shows that younger children simply do not understand what advertising is all about. That young children cannot comprehend how advertising is manipulating them.
Prof. NESTLE: Children cannot be expected to exercise critical thinking or personal responsibility about food choice, until they're quite a bit older. The exact age is a matter of some research debate. But eight-year-olds certainly fall below it.
JENNINGS: Do you think it is fair or even ethical to advertise to children below seven?
Prof. NESTLE: I'm not sure what the cut point is as ethics. But one of the amusing aspects in my current professional life is I get calls from very high-level executives of very, very large food companies, asking me questions like what do you suppose the cut point should be to marketing to children? Do you think it's okay to market to 18-year-olds? A what about 15-year-olds? What about 12-year-olds? They know they're doing something wrong. They know they are.
JENNINGS: What do you think is an appropriate age to begin advertising to a child?
Mr. MUDD: In our judgment, we think, you know, six is a better place to draw the line. We think kids are a lilt more mature than then. They're in school. They're out in the world. They're beginning to experience things beyond the home. And they have a little more judgment.
JENNINGS: Do you foresee that you might not advertise to children under eight or 10?
Mr. MUDD: This is a topic that society is going to continue to debate. I don't think the last chapter has been written on this book.
JENNINGS: Kraft seems to know their under some pressure. They say they won't intentionally design ads for children under six. And they have recently stopped advertising in schools. Other than that, in America, kids are fair game. But not everywhere else. Italy prohibits all ads on cartoon shows. Australia doesn't allow advertising during television programs for preschoolers. Norway and Sweden prohibit all television advertising to children under 12. In the U.S. there are no laws whatsoever prohibiting the food companies from advertising any food to children of any age. The companies, and the advertisers, like it this way.
Has it ever occurred to you that children should be protected by the government from certain food advertising?
Mr. KURNIT: It has occurred to me. And I think it would be a dangerous precedent. In a free society, in commercial society, where we advertise legal products to various consumers, advertising legal products to kids, in a responsible and ethical way, should definitely be permitted.
JENNINGS: Of course, you cannot advertise cigarettes on television anymore. The government does try to protect children from cigarettes. And some years ago, one government agency did try to protect children from food advertising. In the late 1970s, the Federal Trade Commission began investigating the marketing of unhealthy foods to children. Michael Pertschuk was chairman at the time.
Mr. MICHAEL PERTSCHUK (Former Chairman of the FTC): We certainly made a judgment that advertising to young children was unfair. Within the meaning of the law, was unfair because children don't have the capacity to deal with it.
JENNINGS: The Federal Trade Commission made a couple of stunning proposals either ban ads for sugar-coated foods to children under 11, or ban all television advertising to children under eight.
Mr. PERTSCHUK: I was convinced then and I'm convinced to this day that our case was sound on the facts, the impact of advertising, on children and the health of children. And that it was sound in the law.
(From 1979) I think this is absolutely stupid to come in here and ask that we now give to the FTC unlimited jurisdiction.
What we're trying to do is say to the FTC, stop it
JENNINGS: In no time, the FTC was under attack.
Mr. PERTSCHUK: Huge mistake was not to gauge the political impact and especially the power of the food lobby, the broadcasting lobby and their friends in Congress.
JENNINGS: It got really ugly. There were even threats to shut down the FTC.
Mr. JACOBSON: So, the FTC had its head handed to it by Congress. Legislators and the Federal Trade Commission remember that. And for the last, almost 25 years, there's been essentially no talk about limiting junk food or other advertising aimed to children.
JENNINGS: Twenty-five years. And since then, according to the surgeon general, obesity among children and adults has become the most-pressing public health issue in the nation.
Mr. STENZEL: Clearly, when you look at the consequences of the public health crisis we have today, government has got to step in. It's no different than tobacco was 20 or 30 years ago. We told people don't smoke. But until we really started to get serious about it and make changes, look at the escalation of health care costs associated with tobacco smoking. The exact same thing is happening now, in terms of food choices.
JENNINGS: So, will government step in? You, in fact, sir, said at one point, you would give awards to people who behaved better in the food industry.
Sec. THOMPSON: That is correct.
JENNINGS: What happens if they don't behave better? Then what are you going to do?
Sec. THOMPSON: Once you start giving out awards far particular company, a particular fast food industry recipient or a soft drink, I think the other ones are going to say, I want the award next time. I'm going to do more to get it. I think it's much better to be on the positive side than the negative side.
JENNINGS: The Bush administration urges Americans to exercise more and eat healthier. But there is no sign that government will obligate the food industry to change how they make and market food. And no sign whatsoever that government will try to change agricultural policies, so as to benefit the public health.
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JENNINGS: We know there is no easy solution to the growing obesity epidemic. Most of us do need to eat better and exercise more. And what adults eat is ultimately a personal decision. But there's no reason for government to encourage the production and the consumption of so much food that we should be eating less. And clearly there should be a public debate about advertising junk food to children. That will be a difficult issue for the food industry and for the television industry, including ABC. As we made this program, we often thought about how long it took, before government recognized that smoking was a public health issue. And now, it's obesity. Just think of the money it is costing the country. So, how long will it take government to act? I'm Peter Jennings. Thank you. Good night.
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