On the heels of a new study in the Journal of Health Economics, which finds that the U.S. spends more than $190 billion a year on medical costs associated with obesity, Corporate Accountability International and Dr. Nicholas Freudenberg and Monica Gagnon of The City University of New York have released a report that will serve as a tool to address the rising epidemic of diet-related disease.
The report, Slowing Down Fast Food: A policy guide for healthier kids and families, documents ways in which city and county policymakers can address the toll that diet-related disease is taking on their municipalities and on their communities’ health.
It offers specific solutions to curb a primary contributor to the problem – the overconsumption of fast food and the ubiquitous marketing of fast food to children.
“Parents and policymakers have long felt at a disadvantage to counter the ubiquity of junk food and its marketing,” said Dr. Freudenberg. “This guide will empower families and communities to create healthier food environments for current and future generations.” Slowing Down Fast Food focuses on four local policy approaches: school policy, “healthy” zoning, curbing kid-focused marketing, and redirecting subsidies to healthier businesses.
As case studies in the report demonstrate, dedicated grassroots initiatives can overcome the food industry’s staunch opposition and build the political will sufficient for the passage of strong public health policies. For example, in San Francisco, the groundbreaking Healthy Meals Incentive Ordinance set basic nutritional standards for kids’ meals that are accompanied by toy giveaways. It was the power of grassroots initiatives involving parents, health professionals, and community leaders that helped secure the passage of this ordinance.
“What we can take from the city’s action is that all cities and towns could pursue and institute like-minded policies,” said San Francisco City Supervisor Eric Mar, the sponsor of the measure. “While no single community or organization can match the political and economic might of the fast food industry, we can make change on the community level that effectively challenges the fast food industry’s negative impact on public health.”
Such policies have positive and direct effects, but also have helped provoke critical changes across the food industry at large. While McDonald’s and its trade association attempted to block the ordinance, ultimately the burger giant and its competitors altered their practices internationally. For example, shortly after the San Francisco ordinance passed, Jack in the Box, the nation’s fifth largest burger chain, pulled the toy giveaways from its kids’ meals.
National media coverage of the San Francisco ordinance also helped foster public discourse and a deeper understanding of the harmful impact of marketing fast food to children. A growing number of studies have found that ending junk food marketing directed at kids could spare the health of millions of children. In June, the American Academy of Pediatrics even urged a ban on junk food advertising to children as part of a new research review published in the Pediatrics journal.
The report also identifies the obstacles to the passage of policies addressing fast food, namely industry opposition, interference, cooption and avoidance of regulation. It documents how fast food corporations use their political and financial clout to advance their interests, even when their products or practices jeopardize health. While this type of pervasive corporate interference has translated into inaction in Congress, local policy solutions have proven an effective means of countering special interests and protecting public health.
“Corporate influence may be drowning out the will of the people in our nation’s capital right now, but it cannot be allowed to remain this way,” said Kelle Louaillier, executive director of Corporate Accountability International. “Change needs to and can start at the local level, and the policies in this report are a critical place to start.”
The report and its companion Action Guide offer specific, practical guidance for putting policy concepts into motion, offering additional resources from a wide range of organizations engaged in protecting our health from the abuses of fast food corporations.
Individuals and policymakers can access and download the report at Slowing Down Fast Food: A policy guide for healthier kids and families.
Corporate Accountability International (formerly Infact) is a membership organization that, for the last 35 years, has successfully advanced campaigns protecting health, the environment and human rights. Value [the] Meal is Corporate Accountability International’s campaign dedicated to reversing the global epidemic of diet-related disease by challenging the fast food industry to curb a range of its practices.