Richard Carmona

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Describing obesity as "the terror within," U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Richard Carmona called on advertising agencies to help fight the problem by working with the government to improve food labeling, educating clients and ending misleading infomercial claims.

When asked if marketers are partly to blame for the obesity epidemic, Dr. Carmona said, "I don't see it as blame. Who would have thought our society would evolve like that and consumers would be eating that way?" He said the government has worked closely with food marketers such as McDonald's, Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo and Kraft. "The food industry has come a long way; we don't want to impede capitalism," he said. The government wants to partner with the industry rather than pursue regulatory changes, he added.

"We need your help to better understand our product. We sell health, and it's very important that the public gets it," Dr. Carmona said.

"The trouble with food labeling is that very educated people don't understand. The infomercials contain a lot of spurious information. We have a health-illiterate society."

Dr. Carmona said obesity-related diseases already kill 400,000 people annually and are set to outstrip smoking-related deaths in the U.S.

While not directly criticizing the low-carb industry, he said that any "quick fix" diets that aren't balanced raise concerns.

He also called on advertising agencies to contact the Ad Council or his office to get involved in health initiatives. Interpublic Group of Cos.' McCann Erickson recently created a TV spot showing body parts, such as love handles, that had been lost through exercise.

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