Corporate Responsibility, Food Marketers & Childhood Obesity

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In our first hot topic debate we covered corporate responsibility within the food industry, highlighting the childhood obesity epidemic.  As childhood obesity in Canada exceeds 30% and the risks of diabetes and high blood pressure increase, it has led to the suggestion that junk food should be taxed or banned.


Wait… what is Corporate Responsibility?


According to the Foreign Affairs and International Trades Canada corporate social responsibility is defined as:


“The way companies integrate social, environmental, and economic concerns into their values and operations in a transparent and accountable manner. It is integral to long-term business growth and success, and it also plays an important role in promoting Canadian values internationally and contributing to the sustainable development of communities.”


However, for many companies this responsibility remains more of an obligation than an actual business practice.


The team who agreed in favour of the topic (food marketers should be held accountable) had the following key points:


  • The appealing nature of junk food in terms of its excessive salts/sugars is overwhelming for children and creates an addiction to the products.
  • The ease of access to junk food/fast food far outweighs that of nutritious foods.
  • Parents have such limited time that fast food has now become the new food staple vs. home cooked meals.
  • Advertising to children with fictitious characters, placement of ads on child’s programming and the association of products with children within the ad only reinforces the idea of junk food being the first choice for kids.
  • Children are unaware of the health risks of fast food and as such food marketers should be educating kids, not polluting them.
  • The cost of junk food is less than that of nutritious food thus, fast food becomes the new norm.
  • By not being a responsible food marketer you are effectively promoting obesity-related conditions costing the Canadian government millions of dollars in direct and indirect costs.


The team who debated in favour of food marketers not being held responsible had the following points:

  • Technically speaking; the government has set forth regulations and laws to abide by and as long as these laws are not being broken, we as a company do not need to invest in social responsibility.
  • Food marketers have already taken voluntary steps to combat obesity through such initiatives as:
    • Reducing sodium in products
    • Not selling to high schools, middle schools etc.
    • No longer offering toys in kids meals
  • By banning or taxing certain foods are effectively singling out a single issue. In that case, any and all products which could be misused or abused should be heavily taxed as well.
  • The big issue is not the children but the parents and the choices they make for their child. It is their decision whether or not to feed their children such foods.
  • Children are less active than they have ever been. Outside of a gym class required in schools more and more children spend less time playing (exercising) outside and more time indoors connected to their console gaming system, television, and internet.


My final thought


Although childhood obesity is a definite issue and concern for Canadians I do not agree with the heavy taxation of fast food/ junk food nor do I feel that food marketers should be held responsible for such an issue.  Only a parent can be held accountable for a child’s choice, misuse and abuse of food as ultimately they have the choice of what food they decide to put in front of their child. Additionally, other factors including lack of physical activity, poor overall diet etc. are factors that only add to this problem.


Parents should not be looking to food makers and marketers for advice on nutrition and healthy lifestyle. Conversely, food makers and marketers should not be responsible for supporting and encouraging healthy lifestyles of their consumers. Seeking out healthy living and nutritional advice from companies such as McDonald’s is like a consumer seeking sobriety advice from Labatt’s.


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