Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Honey, We're Killing The Kids OR How Advertising To Children Has Led To Obesity Problems

Children are eating too much sugary, fattening, high calorie foods and that's a fact. The consequences of this diet will stay with them for their entire lives resulting in problems with diabetes, cancer and heart disease along with a reduced life expectancy. The Learning Channel (TLC) is presenting a new series called Honey, We're Killing The Kids showing a family how to reverse this lifestyle. The show is a kind of emergency diet makeover.

As I pointed out in my blog article, Super Size And Save!, there are a number of factors that have lead to this health crisis. But especially with children, advertising and marketing are a major part of the problem.

Our children are getting the hard sell. Food ads make up the largest category of advertising on TV shows aimed at kids. These ads feature bowls brimming with cereal, overstuffed sandwiches, and youngsters happily gulping down humongous drinks. The package design of these products often displays a favorite cartoon character.

The hard sell continues at the supermarket. What parent has not been nagged by a child to buy a certain toaster pastry or candy? These highly advertised products are often placed on the shelves at child's eye level so that a son or daughter will see the brightly colored package pitched on TV and nag parents until they buy (known as the "nag factor" by consumer watchers).

But is this just conjecture? A study done at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill looked at government data dealing with 21,000 children from 2 to 18 years old during the time period of 1977 to the mid-1990s. They discovered that young people in recent years were getting 25% of their calories from sugary, fattening snacks vs. 18% in 1977. All this adds up to about 150 extra calories a day.

Marketers know that children are vulnerable, easily swayed and impressionable. At the supermarket, there are a full range of television-advertised meal choices for kids from morning to night. A child can eat sugary cereals for breakfast, a "lunch kit" with their favorite action hero on the package, a frozen special kids meal for dinner and then crackers, cookies, candies and sodas for snacks. This category of food is also expanding rapidly. New products include breakfast bars of popular cereals, microwavable pasta dishes just for kids and munchy mixes of chips, pretzels, candy and sugar-coated cereals.

Even the food choices presented at school can be troubling. Many vending machines only offer large portions, such as 20 oz. soft drinks and gigantic candy bars so that if a child is hungry, he or she must accept this too large size. In addition the Center For Science in the Public Interest stated that, "A nationwide survey of vending machines in middle schools and high schools finds that 75 percent of the drinks and 85 percent of the snacks sold are of poor nutritional value."

Recent studies now are beginning to prove conclusively that such marketing and advertising are bad for our kids. For example, Commercial Alert, a non-profit organization, reports, "Research into the dietary and viewing habits of more than 162,000 children in 35 countries has revealed that their consumption of sweets and fizzy drinks rises with each hour they spend in front of the box. By contrast, the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables falls."

So it all comes back to the same basic question: Are we going to let advertisers have unbridled access to our children or are we going to do something?


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