The Market Choice Frame: Individual Responsibility

The Market Choice Frame: Individual Responsibility
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In response to allegations that it is creating a “toxic environment” for consumers, and in light of
these inducements to instill corporate accountability, industry—especially through one
representative organization, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF)—is articulating a position
on the fat body. The CCF is a well-funded, extremely vocal, non- profit public interest group
founded in 1995 by Philip Morris—the aforementioned tobacco company that has used suspect
strategies to increase profits. It represents over 30,000 restaurants and taverns in America
(SourceWatch 2006) and runs major media campaigns and maintains a website
(www.centerforconsumerfreedom.com) to convey its message. In 2004, the CCF released An
Epidemic of Obesity Myths, a document that clearly lays out the industry’s perspectives on
obesity. In this publication, the CCF presents a coherent picture of the food industry’s
perspective or cultural frame.4 They outline and refute seven “myths”: (1) obesity kills 400,000
Americans per year; (2) you can’t be overweight and healthy; (3) obesity is a disease; (4)
overeating is a primary cause of obesity; (5) soda causes childhood obesity; (6) 65 percent of
Americans are overweight or obese; and (7) obesity costs the US economy $117 billion
annually. In general, the CCF downplays obesity as a health “epidemic,” emphasizes personal
responsibility in consumption decisions, and is critical of government regulation. It also
underscores declining exercise levels as a cause of obesity and makes clear that solutions to
obesity must focus on both eating and exercise habits.
While the soft drink pullout from schools suggests that food companies are bowing to health
interests, the industry’s overall position is that, at bottom, individuals are responsible for what
they consume (Buchholz 2003). In other words, it is about personal responsibility. According to
the food industry, in a democratic capitalist society, individuals have the right to consume
whatever they want. The themes of choice, common sense, and personal responsibility pervade
the CCF’s print advertisements. For example:
Some government officials want warning labels on food. Warning labels on food to “protect” us?
At the Center for Consumer Freedom, we think adults are smart enough to choose what to eat
and when to move. The only warnings you really need are about food cops, bureaucrats, and
scheming trial lawyers. (http://www. consumerfreedom.com/advertisements_detail.cfm/ad/22)
YOU ARE TOO STUPID … to make your own food choices. At least according to the food police
and government bureaucrats who have proposed “fat taxes” on foods they don’t want you to
eat. (http://www.consumerfreedom.com/advertisements_detail.cfm/ad/7)
The defining characteristics of this market choice frame are the choice to consume and
individual responsibility over what one chooses to consume. Adults, the industry proclaims, are
sensible enough to make their own decisions. By extension, just like food choices, body size is
a personal choice.
At the same time as industry downplays the health problems associated with obesity, it has
nevertheless made adjustments to promote healthy eating. Company-specific action to combat
obesity and promote healthy eating choices includes clear communication in labeling, packaging
and advertising; reformulating products to lower cholesterol and to reduce calories, trans fats
and sugars; adding vitamins to foods; and offering smaller portion sizes (Finn 2005). In
conjunction with these product and marketing changes, industry emphasizes the need to
promote physical activity, supporting solutions to the “epidemic” that focus on increasing activity
levels. For example, in January 2003, the American Council for Fitness and Nutrition (ACFN)
was formed. This joint collaboration between food and beverage companies, trade associations,
and nutrition advocates attempts to create long-lasting remedies to obesity in the United States
(Finn 2005). The ACFN promotes healthy eating, but high on its agenda is motivating physical
activity in both adults and children. To a similar end, food companies maintain websites
promoting active lifestyles such as Pepsi Co.’s www.smartspot.com.
In sum, contemporary obesity discourses now include talk about the role of the food industry,
along with various checks on industry responsibility. The food industry has also articulated a
frame on the fat body. It is a frame that emphasizes agency and individual responsibility,
together with corporate responsibility. Moreover, it stresses public policy that focuses on a fit
country, rather than on industry controls. CCF ads and publications clearly indicate the
industry’s negative position on special taxes and food labels. The free market, not the
government, ought to dictate what the public should have available for consumption. Similarly,
the CCF disagrees with responsibility lawsuits and restrictions on food marketing to adults

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