Childhood Obesity Advertising

Child obesity influenced by advertising tactics

Since 1960, there has been a 300 percent increase in the rate of U.S. children who are either overweight or obese. Childhood obesity, is now described as "epidemic" by health professionals. Our children's life expectancy could be lower than our own. The reason is: child obesity.Also, it’s predicted that 80% of adolescents who are obese will remain so into adulthood. The American Academy of Pediatrics calls the costs associated with childhood obesity "staggering." Although one can point to several causes (see childhood obesity causes) for this crisis, one culprit is the commercialism to which children are exposed every day.

childhood obesity advertisingThe role of advertising in the child obesity problem is significant. On common, one food advertisement is shown every five minutes during Saturday morning cartoons. Every day our children are exposed to the advertisements quite often for foods that are harmful to them. Each year, the average child sees about 40,000 commercials on television alone. About 84% of middle schools and 58% of elementary schools allow the sale of soda or other sugar-laden drinks on their grounds. There have been several attempts by big-name food brands to identify themselves with a healthy, active lifestyle. Many toys are co-branded with the junk food industry; fast food (see childhood obesity fast food) establishments lead the trend by including movie-related toys in their kids’ meals.

The main method through which the media contributes obesity in children is through billions of dollars worth of advertising. The number of ads children see on TV has doubled from 20,000 to 40,000 since the 1970s.

It is estimated that advertisers spend more than $12 billion per year on advertising aimed at young people. For example, beer ads are commonly shown during sports events and seen by millions of children, creating both brand familiarity and more positive attitudes toward drinking in children as young as 9-10 years of age. And the majority of ads targeted to kids are for candy, cereal and fast food (see childhood obesity & food).

The occurrence of marketing to children is troubling because of children inherent vulnerability to persuasion. Children under age 8 cannot recognize the intent of ads and tend to accept them as accurate and unbiased. A 30-second commercial can influence brand preferences in children as young as 2.

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media and childhood obesity
Media and Childhood Obesity

television childhood obesity
Television Childhood Obesity

Ads manipulating obesity in children

Many advertisers target children's vulnerability by exposing their advertisements as online games or by using product placement to sneak them into prime-time shows. It is through television, computers and video games children manipulate eating habits. It is where food advertisers spend billions of dollars each year pushing unhealthy cereals, snacks and drinks through commercials and product placements aimed at children; where beloved cartoon characters shill for fast- food chains (such as Burger King's use of Teletubbies and SpongeBob); and where advertisements for cookies and candy are disguised as arcade-style games. It is where broadcasters and advertisers put their own financial well-being above the health of our children. The media and advertisers have a responsibility to do care for our children. Some have recognized the effects their business practices have on children and are taking important steps toward acting in children's best interest.Kraft Foods decided to stop advertising its low- nutrition foods during children's programs and replace them with ads for more nutritional snack products. Sesame Street recently teamed with Earth's Best to launch a new line of organic and "nutrient-rich" breakfast foods and snacks for children. Nickelodeon refused to allow one of its characters, Dora the Explorer, to be used for a Burger King kids' meal unless a piece of fruit was included in the meal.

Government should take action to protect young children from commercial exploitation" through advertising There should be a ban on the advertising of unhealthy foodstuffs, including inappropriate sponsorship programmes, targeted at school children (see childhood obesity in schools).

Celebrities and children’s television characters should only endorse healthy products that meet nutritional criteria laid down by the Food Standards Agency (FSA). The media has a role to play in encouraging improvements in children’s diet and exercise (see childhood obesity & exercise). Supermarkets should consider price promotions for healthy food instead of chocolates, sweets and crisps.

Children receive a huge amount of attention from food advertisers, with a marked difference between the foods marketed at children and the nutritional quality of that food (see childhood obesity & diet). The media has an important role to play in forming attitudes to nutrition and there is scope to harness this potential and further regulate its more harmful impact.

Broadcasters and advertisers need to follow suit and develop business practices that will support, rather than thwart, children's healthy development. For example, they can offer a certain percentage of advertising time to nutrition (see childhood obesity & nutrition) public-service announcements. And if broadcasters are going to license their characters, these characters can sell healthy foods. While parents (see childhood obesity & parents) may actually be the ones paying the price for all of this advertising at the cash register, our children are paying with their health. In addition to the social stigma and psychological effects that overweight children often suffer, they are also significantly more likely than their peers to become afflicted with serious health problems such as asthma, diabetes; high blood pressure and sleep apnea (see childhood obesity effects). In fact, the U.S. Surgeon General has identified overweight and obesity as "the fastest growing cause of disease and death in America." This barrage of marketing unhealthy foods to kids requires awareness and interception from parents. Help kids connect healthy eating habits with more nutrition and physical fitness (see childhood obesity & physical activity).

childhood obesity preventionTips for parents

What can you do as a parent or guardian or caregiver to help preventing childhood obesity? We have some ideas in our Childhood Obesity Prevention section.

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