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Weight problem

What business is it of corporations if Americans are putting on a few pounds? Important business, say associate professor of marketing Kathleen Seiders and Texas A&M professor Leonard L. Berry in the Winter 2007 issue of Sloan Management Review. The duo considers the skyrocketing obesity rate in America–up to one-third of the population today from one-sixth in the 1980s–and answers the article's title question of "Should Business Care About Obesity?" with four reasons. "Simple self-preservation" is the first, with the authors noting that the popularity of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation has kept food companies "in the trial lawyers' crosshairs." The second is related: Food and beverage companies don't want to face the public's wrath over their unhealthy ingredients and giant portions. Plus, the authors argue, the rising rates of obesity can run up health care costs and prevent workers from performing at an optimal level. The last rationale is a business tip: All of these people struggling to lose weight provide a market for new products to help them achieve that goal. The authors go on to provide examples of how companies have moved to counter the American obesity trend. The children's entertainment cable station Nickelodeon, for instance, replaced three hours of programming with a broadcast message that encouraged kids to play outdoors as part of the annual Worldwide Day of Play in 2005. The Disney theme parks revamped their kid's meals, replacing soda with milk and juice and French fries with applesauce. These companies "are not just playing defense," say the authors. "Through new restaurant formats, new games, new parent-pleasing menus and more, they are seizing opportunities to create new markets that meet a growing demand for a lighter, healthier America."

Read "Should Business Care About Obesity?" [pdf]

related links

New York Times article reviewing the paper [pdf]


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