Myths busted: Is 'junk' food advertising to blame?
Are junk food ads to blame for the childhood obesity problem? Should TV food advertising be banned? Catherine Saxelby reports.
How I hate those ads for kids snacks, lollies and fast food. They pop up with annoying regularity, promoting foods youd rather your kids didnt eat and encouraging pester power.
Do they work? You bet. Theres plenty of research linking TV viewing and the ads that come along with it with childhood obesity. Aussie kids watch two to three hours of television a day (mostly on commercial TV stations), according to The Parents Jury. Not only are your kids bombarded with ads for food while they watch, but thats two to three hours a day where theyre sedentary and inactive. And, the Parents Jury adds, children under eight years old dont have the critical skills needed to recognise whether the persuasive promotional techniques jingles, celebrity endorsements, cartoon characters and toys that link movies to food are real or not.
US researchers now report that food advertising appears to prime us to eat more, even if were not hungry. In one study, children consumed 45 per cent more of a snack while watching cartoons with food advertised.
The good news
In Europe, kids now see 36 per cent less food advertising compared to five years ago. In fact, some companies, such as Coca-Cola and Mars, no longer advertise any of their products to children in the European market. In New Zealand, selfregulatory guidelines have been put in place requesting that manufacturers restrict themselves from advertising products high in fat, salt or sugar to children.
Australia too has self-regulatory guidelines in place, but The Parents Jury argues that selfregulation has not been effective, as most kids watch shows that arent specifically for children, like Australian Idol or The Simpsons. Since shows like these arent covered by the Childrens Television Standards, The Parents Jury also supports a ban on all TV ads for unhealthy food and drink between 6am9pm daily.
In my opinion, even if we do prove that food advertising is to blame for childhood obesity, a ban wont stop all the other forms of covert marketing aimed at kids including food packaging, billboards, sport sponsorship, computer games, websites and product placement in TV shows and movies. Parents still need to teach their kids to be discerning when it comes to marketing.
The bottom line
Whether junk food advertising is to blame for kids obesity is debatable, but reducing the number of ads targeted at children is a good move. Its also wise to limit TV and game time to under one hour a day and encourage kids to eat healthy foods.