Whose freedom?

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In the Times a couple of days ago, health writer Jane Brody wrote about foods advertised to children in a story headlined "Risks for Youths Who Eat What They Watch," and said little that's startling:

Kids 2-7 see an average of a dozen food commecials a day. Kids who watch TV that has food marketing aimed at kids eat more than others kids. And, many of the biggest manufacturers of the stuff pledged in 2006 not to market to kids under 12 unless the food met certain nutritional guidelines — their own.

“Despite the industry’s self-regulatory system, the vast majority of food and entertainment companies have no protections in place for children,” said Margo G. Wootan, the center’s nutrition policy director.


Why does this surprise anyone? Are these businesses in the business of protecting children or earning market share and returning investment to shareholders?

Entities that volunteer "self-regulation" usually seek to forestall regulation, because actual regulation would curtail their profit opportunities. Of course they would fight rules that would interfere with them.

The task for all of us, societally, is to decide what's more important, a company's right to unfettered commerce or a minor's right to develop unfettered into majority. We've made that choice many times before — making statutory rape a serious crime, for example.

Many who argue for the former put the onus on parents to decide what's best for their minor children, and there's strong justification for that. Parents are, and should be, their children's staunchest advocates and protectors.

But with a cliche I'm weary of and yet still deploy, "how's that working out for us?" One in three children in America is overweight, which has ill and serious implications not only for those kids but for America collectively.

Parents are the first line of defense against child rape, but that isn't a justification not to sanction those who would take advantage of kids that way. In that case, we seek to prevent in at least two ways.

Some might argue that the flaw in my analogy is that enticing kids with processed sugar, flour, and fat isn't nearly the same as statutory rape. Though I wouldn't want to argue the finer points of that comparison, I've no problem saying that these manufacturers are taking advantage of children, at the children's peril, in the name of (financial) gratification.

The question is, do we value children's health more, or corporate rights more? Is that even a question?

Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
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