Childhood obesity is a global epidemic and public health problem that has been proven through studies to have serious morbidity, economic, and mortality costs that need to be addressed. The number of obese children has increased significantly over the last twenty-five years, owing to various reasons that have been discussed on various academic and social platforms. The occurrence of obesity among preschool children is increasing at an alarming rate.
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One of the reasons attributed to the increased prevalence is the negative effect of advertisements on various media platforms that target children and that promote unhealthy foods. Studies have shown that many children spend a lot of time using different types of media that expose them to advertisements that market unhealthy foods. For example, media platforms that include radio, television, and the internet are awash with ads that market non-nutritious foods that are associated with obesity. In order to prevent childhood obesity, it is necessary to ban food ads because they have adverse effects on children’s food preferences, consumption, and purchasing behaviors.
Food ads encourage unhealthy eating
Children are bombarded with innumerable ads that encourage them to eat foods that predispose them to obesity (Harvey 609). The largest percentage of food and beverages shown on ads contain high amounts of sugar, sodium, and saturated fats that have negative health outcomes (Mikailova 327). Ads present high-calorie and low-nutrient products to children in a way that makes them exciting and fun to consume.
Advertisements appear in various media platforms, thus increasing children’s exposure to high-calorie and high-sugar foods. These ads play a critical role in the incidence of obesity because they encourage children to influence their parents into buying unhealthy foods for them. In most cases, parents are coerced into buying these foods because children decline to eat other foods that are healthier. Advertising companies take advantage of the fact that children usually get their way with parents who buy them whatever they want. This explains why there are many food ads in children’s programming than in adult programming.
Children’s exposure to ads that unhealthy market foods increase the risk of obesity. Many advertising companies target children between ages 8-12 because during that period, they are developing food habits that they carry on to adolescence and maybe adulthood. The ads influence children into making food preferences and choices based on what they see (Guran et al. 27). An analysis of food advertising in Turkish television conducted by Guran et al. revealed that a large portion of advertising time is taken by food advertisements. In addition, it revealed that most of the ads content included obesogenic foods (Guran et al. 27).
The study analyzed the four major television channels in the country. The analysis revealed that 32.1 ads aired during the study periods were food das. 81% of ads included foods that contain high amounts of calories, fats, and sugars, and the most frequently advertised products included chocolate, gum, fast food, tea, chocolate bars, carbonated beverages, ice cream, and margarine (Guran et al. 28). Ads that marketed unhealthy products include the use of audiovisual techniques in order to appeal to children. The findings of the study support the argument that food ads should be banned in order to prevent childhood obesity.
Food ads take advantage of children’s underdeveloped judgment
Children are usually naïve and uninformed with regard to the effects of consuming high-calorie foods. Therefore, marketing companies target them in advertisements. Children do not possess the proper judgment to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy foods or to determine whether the products shown in advertisements have positive or negative effects on their health and overall wellbeing. This problem is worsened by the fact that children consume a lot of media, and their parents are usually not present to regulate what they watch (Mikailova 327). In order to catch the attention of children, many advertising agencies use child stars and famous cartoon figures (Harvey 611).
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Children mainly learn by copying what they see. As a result, they ask their parents to buy them certain products because that is what they saw their favorite child starts eat (Harvey 677). Children are not knowledgeable enough to differentiate between reality and fiction. They do not understand that advertisements are fictional representations of reality that are aimed at convincing them to consume certain products.
According to Harvey, companies use four major methods that attract children to their products. They include targeting parents indirectly, outsmarting children, advertising foods with ingredients that children love, and spending huge amounts of money (Harvey 621).
In the article, he states that more than $1.6 billion was spent by 44 companies in 2006 on advertising. This money was used to market products and convince children and adolescents to purchase their products. $458 million was used to fund ads on television that targeted children between the ages of 2 and 12 (Harvey 629). The money was sued to advertise breakfast cereals, restaurant food, snacks, candy, frozen desserts, and carbonated beverages. A 2007 report released by Kaiser Foundation showed that food advertisements are more in programs created for children than programs that target adults (Harvey 628).
Ads are biased and pervasive
In order to mitigate the childhood obesity epidemic, food and beverage companies have regulated their marketing to children by reducing the number of ads that unhealthy market foods (Mikailova 327). However, this self-regulation has had little or no benefits because children continue to be exposed to unhealthy foods that have high amounts of sugar, fat, and sodium. Food marketers target children’s shows to advertise their food products and beverages.
On such shows, half of the time dedicated to ads is taken by food ads. Major products advertised include fast foods, candy, snacks, and cereals. Products such as fruit juices, fruits, and vegetables get little airtime. Ads are to blame for the obesity epidemic because children are rarely exposed to ads that promote healthy foods. Therefore their food preferences and choices are shaped by biased advertisements that promote unhealthy foods (Mikailova 335).
Mikhailova suggests that the government should apply nutritional standards developed by the Food and Drug Authority (FDA) to regulate food advertising. Only foods that meet the FDA standards should be advertised (Mikailova 355). The government should take the issue seriously because obesity increases the costs of health care and has severe health consequences. Mikhailova agrees that high levels of screen time are problematic because of the pervasive nature of advertising, especially during shows that target children. The government needs to compel marketing companies to create ads that encourage healthy eating. It is the responsibility of the government to enact laws that regulate advertising if other methods of regulation fail (Mikailova 335).
Arguments against banning food ads have been presented through several research studies. For example, Bhamani (933) argues that the solution to the obesity epidemic is the active involvement of parents. In that regard, she suggests that parents should shape their children’s dietary practices and encourage them to engage in physical activities (Bhamani 933). In addition, they should ensure that their children do not adopt sedentary lifestyles. Parents should gain knowledge regarding proper nutrition so that they can influence their children’s food preferences and choices positively (Bhamani 933).
It is also important for them to avoid practices such as excessive television viewing and poor eating habits so that they can act as role models to their children. This argument is supported by Poskitt (396), who argues that prevention of obesity should be focused more on altering the lifestyles of children because many treatment programs do not change the family attitudes and environments that are contributing factors (Poskitt 396).
Other important strategies include creating strict dietary regimens and encouraging children to take part in physical activities. Urban lifestyles encourage children to adopt sedentary lifestyles. Therefore, in order to prevent childhood obesity, parents should focus on changing their families’ lifestyles rather than reducing the time their children spend watching television (Poskitt 397). According to Yeow et al. (10), prevention of obesity should be based on a proper understanding of its root causes.
They argue that obesity is caused by interactions between several factors that include the environment, genetics, ethnic differences, gestational weight, diet, sleep, physical activity, and parental determinants (Yeow et al. 11). Understanding the main causes of childhood obesity is an important step toward preventing the epidemic because it aids in the creation of effective prevention and intervention strategies (Yeow et al. 20). Their arguments reject the claim that banning food das will prevent childhood obesity. They do not explore the adverse effects of advertising on the food preferences and behaviors of children. Therefore, their arguments are not convincing because many studies that propose the banning of food ads have been conducted.
Childhood obesity is a pervasive global epidemic and public health issue that is affecting many children, especially in developed countries. Many reasons have been attributed to the increasing prevalence of childhood obesity. One of the most controversial reasons is advertisements. Children are exposed to innumerable food advertisements on different media platforms on a daily basis. These ads influence their food preferences, consumption, behaviors, and choices.
Food marketing companies target children because of their naivety and underdeveloped judgment. They cannot differentiate between fiction and reality. In addition, they are unable to perceive the intent behind the ads as well as the effects of certain food products on their health and overall wellbeing. Governments have put certain measures in place to cut advertising targeted toward children. However, these measures have been ineffective in preventing obesity.
It is important for parents to teach their children about the importance of eating healthy and adopting active lifestyles. Parents need to monitor what their children watch and regulate the amount of time they spend on various media platforms. On the other hand, teachers need to create awareness and teach children about the importance of eating healthy foods such as cereals, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Food ads should be banned because they influence the food preferences, choices, and behaviors of children in ways that predispose them to obesity.
Ang, Yeow Nyin, Bee Suan Wee, Bee Koon Poh, and Mohd Noor Ismail. “Multifactorial Influences of Childhood Obesity.” Current Obesity Reports 2.1 (2013): 10-22. Print.
Bhamani, Shireen Shehzad. “Parents’ Role in Prevention of Childhood Obesity.” The Journal of the Pakistan Medical Association 63.7 (2013): 933. Print.
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Guran, Tulay, Serap Turan, Teoman Akcay, Fatih Degirmenci, Okan Avci, Abdulkerim Asan, Emre Erdil, Abdulaziz Majid, and Abdullah Bereket. “Content Analysis of Food advertising in Turkish Television: Childhood Obesity and TV Advertisements.” Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 46.7-8 (2010): 427-30. Print.
Harvey, Andrew. “A Proposal for Congressionally Mandated Federal Regulation of Child-Directed Food and Beverage Television Advertisements to Combat Childhood Obesity.” Health Matrix 23.2 (2013): 607-637. Print.
Mikailova, Milena. 2014. “Advertising and Childhood Obesity: The Role of the Federal Government in Limiting Children’s Exposure to Unhealthy Food Advertisements.” Federal Communications Law Journal 66.2 (2014): 327-356.
Poskitt, Elizabeth. “Tackling Childhood Obesity: Diet, Physical Activity or Lifestyle Change?” Acta Paediatrica 94.4 (2005): 396-398. Print.