Food advertising aimed at children promotes high-calorie/low-nutrition items, which can contribute to unhealthy dietary habits which lead to obesity, heard disease, diabetes and other diseases. Parents cannot prevent children from being being exposed these messages, and it may actually be counterproductive to try blocking them. Instead parents can make children aware of marketing messages and help them to see advertisements with a critical eye. Here are a few tips on how:
- Commercials are not part of the program. Young children especially may have a hard time understanding why a story keeps getting interrupted with other mini-stories. Explain that the purpose of the messages is to get people to buy their products. Make it a game to identify commercials. Use commercials as a time to go to the bathroom, drink a glass of water or to stand up and stretch.
- Be aware of product placement. Studies show that children as young as 2 or 3 are aware of brands. Companies have figured out that they can also build desire for their products by placing them in movies and shows, which suits the producers as well since that is another source of revenue. The next time you see a particular brand of food, beverage or restaurant in a show, chances are that it is not by accident. Make a game out of spotting products and stating that they’re trying to get people to buy stuff.
- Remember, it’s health, not weight. The goal to keep in mind is to raise children to be health conscious, not weight conscious. So rather than talking about how junk food makes people fat, talk about how it affects them inside.
- Importance of health. Have a discussion about why health is important. Frame the discussion in terms that matter to children. For example, too much sugar and fat could affect how fast they can run. Eating more protein can build muscle and strength, so that they can hit a ball harder or climb higher.
- Peer pressure. Your child may see that other kids get to eat or drink whatever they want, and he may ask you why he can’t as well. Be prepared for this. You can explain that maybe other parents aren’t aware of the bad effects of junk food. Also explain that advertisers rely on making junk food seem cool in order to sell things.
- Explain your decision-making. Talk about how you choose food products to buy and why you choose one product over another. Take your child shopping with you. Compare the packaging and discuss how brands make packaging more appealing to kids. If your child is old enough, go over the ingredients and nutritional information together.
- Let them decide. It will be very hard and probably unrealistic to completely cut out junk food. One way to limit the amount and let your child learn about making choices is to give her an allowance. It shouldn’t be much more than the price of one item of junk food, but she can spend it any way she wants. Explore what other ways your child could spend that money, whether it’s for a book, a toy or an article of clothing by saving up for a few weeks.
There are also many videos that explain how advertisers make food look more appealing than it can be in reality. Watch them with your child, just the images are quite self-explanatory. Here is one example.
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