August 16, 2010
Spotlight on marketers as obesity rises in China and India
Last month, a group of food and beverage heavyweights—including Nestlé, General Mills, Coca-Cola and PepsiCo—signed the “India Pledge,” agreeing to “a high level of social responsibility” in marketing to children and to “help promote healthier dietary choices.” While brands in this category have pledged to limit marketing to kids in the EU, North America and some key developing markets (including Brazil and Thailand), such initiatives had not previously been seen in the huge growth markets of India and China. But marketers will come under increasing pressure as rapid development and globalization spur sharp rises in obesity.
A recent study from India’s Registrar General found that “obesity-related diseases have joined malnutrition as leading causes of death,” according to the Voice of America (which points to the dating site overweightshaadi.com as one sign of the times). It’s not only affluent consumers who are getting bigger but many of the poor, who are eating more cheap junk food. In China, Ministry of Education figures show that 16 percent of youth from age 7 to 22 are obese, a number that’s rising by 8 percent a year, according to an Ad Age report by Matthew Crabbe and Paul French, authors of Fat China: How Expanding Waistlines Are Changing a Nation. While advertising to kids doesn’t help, various social factors are exacerbating the problem, such as the traditional notion that a plump kid signals “health and future prosperity.”
Without more voluntary efforts like the India Pledge, marketers will be subject to legislative rules. In the U.S., the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which recently passed unanimously in the Senate, would require food in schools—including that sold in vending machines—to meet nutrition guidelines. With First Lady Michelle Obama embracing the cause of childhood obesity, more restrictions may follow.
Photo credit: nestle.in/India_PressRelease
Photo credit: Ryan McFarland