“If you had to choose one public health problem to attack, which would it be: teenage smoking or childhood obesity?”
This was the opening line for a recent NY Times article contrasting the increasing support for fighting childhood obesity with the decreasing funds available for anti-smoking campaigns. Many advocates fighting the good fight against Big Tobacco lamented the fact that it seems necessary to sacrifice anti-smoking efforts amongst teenagers in order to fully fund projects to prevent childhood obesity.
We would like to point out something that the author of the article takes for granted—that childhood obesity and teenage smoking are public health concerns of a comparable nature. Both lead to a lifetime serious medical conditions. Both are also preventable.
One of the most effective strategies employed to reduce the relevance of teenage smoking was to change kids' preferences. We made it illegal for tobacco companies to directly advertise to kids. Mascots such as Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man became icons of a past era, and information about the dangers of smoking could be presented in an environment where Big Tobacco was no longer welcome. Educators had the opportunity to speak to youth about the consequences of smoking without having to compete with glitzy advertising portraying tobacco as enjoyable and fun.
Retire Ronald is representative of a similar effort to get corporations to stop marketing directly to children. Preventing tobacco corporations was a logical step in the fight against teenage smoking, and similar restrictions on the fast food industry should be the next step in reversing the trend of childhood obesity.
It will be easier to educate kids about good nutrition and healthy choices in an environment free from the constant bombardment of commercials for chicken nuggets and fries.