Thursday, March 17, 2005

Commercialism and children

I just got back from colleague Christina Economos' inaugural talk as the New Balance chair for children's obesity research at my school, the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts. It was fabulous -- an inspiring mix of activism and scholarship. Christina's CDC-sponsored project Shape Up Somerville is a community-wide healthy living intervention, which recognizes that it is terribly difficult for an individual to make major lifestyle changes if the social networks around him or her are fighting those changes every step of the way. Progress may require addressing many social contexts at once, from homes to schools to the wider commercial culture.

Speaking of the children's obesity, the main Friedman School seminar a week earlier was a fascinating talk by Juliet Schor, the author of Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Commercial Culture. Here is a review of that book by Tufts professor David Elkind. From Schor's account, it sounds like she was offered some sort of fellowship by the advertising industry to improve its image in the academic community. I don't think this offer had the desired effect. Her inside information on marketing food to children is devastating.

Schor is also on the board of an interesting simple living advocacy group, New American Dream. That group's chief, Betsy Taylor, has recently released in paperback her book, What Kids Really Want that Money Can't Buy: Tips for Parenting in a Commercial World.

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