Over the past two weeks, the 2012 Olympic Games have showcased remarkable athletic achievements in varying feats of skill, speed, strength and agility and are a testament to the boundless potential of the human body. The Olympic Games are—or at least should be—a source of inspiration for children around the world to lead healthy, active lives, particularly in the face of a growing global obesity epidemic. Yet, as you know if you’ve tuned in to watch even one event, the world’s largest junk food manufacturers—Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, and Cadbury’s—are nearly as prominent as the athletes themselves. Through exclusive sponsorship deals with the International Olympics Committee (IOC), these companies have used the Olympics to associate their brands with athleticism and success and beam their advertisements promoting unhealthy products into the homes of millions of children across the globe. Many have hailed the London Games the ‘best ever’, but as the global epidemic of childhood obesity marches on, we should ask ourselves whether we really want soda and fast food companies sponsoring international sporting events.
The Childhood Obesity Crisis and the Impact of Food Marketing
The obesity epidemic is emerging as one of the world’s most pressing public health challenges of our time with a staggering 170 million children estimated to be overweight globally. Obesity places children and adolescents at risk for a range of serious health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and depression, making obesity second only to smoking as a cause of preventable death. While industrialized nations have long faced childhood obesity, the epidemic is spreading at an alarming rate in low-income countries as their populations gain greater access to processed, low-nutrient foods. Indeed, over two-thirds of the world’s population now lives in countries where overweight–related health issues cause more deaths than underweight-related issues. Treating obesity and obesity-related conditions costs billions of dollars a year. In May 2012, the U.S. Institute of Medicine estimated that the annual cost of obesity-related illness in the U.S. alone is more than $190 billion, equal to 21 percent of annual medical spending. Such costs are unsustainable globally. READ MORE »