How food companies target children

How food companies target children

Photo: ImagesBazaar

Food companies go to a lot of effort to get children to desire their products. A close look at those products reveals that most of them are unhealthy junk food for children and contain little nutritional value. Consuming too much of this food leads to an adult life of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and can cause early deaths.

Food products made specifically for children constitute big business. According to a 2005 report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), an independently acting organization funded by the US government, just four food companies aimed 541 food products at children in the US during a 10-year period. Not only food companies, but companies that make toys and cigarettes also targeted food at children. However, the IOM found that many of the food items aimed at kids are high in calories, either through sugar or fat, and have few nutritional benefits.

To create demand for their products, food companies use commercials that exploit children’s lack of maturity and willpower, and they use other marketing tactics that make it difficult for parents to control the message that children get. Previous studies have linked food advertising aimed at children to an increase in the obesity rates over the years. The IOM report claimed that obesity rates in children tripled since the 1980s due to unprincipled food advertising.

American Academy of Pediatrics chairman on obesity and a father of two young boys, pediatrician Stephen Pont, says, “If we had less of this kind of advertising, it would make me more comfortable as a parent and less angry that these companies aren’t trying to manipulate my children into unhealthy habits. Think about it: If an individual person tried manipulating your kids like that, you’d seek them out. That’s what companies are doing with some of these advertisements.”

The attention on the advertising and negative health impact has brought about some changes. Due to pressure from many groups, Disney stopped carrying junk food ads from its TV stations in the US. Though not absolutely linked to the alteration of advertising, childhood obesity rates seem to have remained static overall and have fallen slightly in some states in the US. “There’s no one cause of obesity and there’s no one silver bullet,” Pont said. “But some contributors are bigger than others and advertising is a substantial contributor to the problem.”

Food advertisements on Indian television channels

Source: A Comparative Analysis of Television Food Advertisements Aimed at Adults and Children in India, IJIRSE, ISSN (Online) 2347-3207.

Gains for children’s health in one place are offset by lack of progress in other places. A research study conducted in India in late October 2012 compared food advertising targeted at adults and at children. The results are quite stark. On channels that carry children’s programming (including Disney), nearly half (46%) of the advertising time was for chocolates and sweets, compared to just one-fifth (19.4%) of the time on general entertainment channels (GECs). The contrast is even greater when looking at just four food groups: Biscuits/Cakes, Chocolates/sweet products, Dairy and Grain based products. Almost 74% of the duration of commercials on children’s networks were for chocolates and sweets, as compared to 30% on GECs. On the other hand, 35% of the advertising time on GECs was promoting grain based products, but only 5% on children’s channels.

The conclusion the researchers drew is that food companies reflect the health and nutrition concerns of adults by promoting healthy foods when advertising to that target group, but when it comes to children, they promote very unhealthy food.

Parents can fight back by helping their children understand how they are being targeted.

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