Eat Healthy, Grow Strong: Junk Food Marketing
In the fight against childhood obesity, policy makers, pediatricians and even parents are up against an overwhelming opponent: food marketers. Whether it be a favorite cartoon character on a box of sugar-sweetened cereal or television commercials for unhealthy snacks, food marketers are increasingly reaching kids' bellies and brains.
The American Academy of Pediatrics places a lot of the blame on ads, as well as the decrease in physical activity that comes from too much screen time, for the childhood obesity epidemic. "Thirty years ago, the federal government ruled that young children are psychologically defenseless against advertising. Now, kids see 5,000 to 10,000 food ads per year, most of them for junk food and fast food," said Dr. Victor Strasburger, lead author of the Children, Adolescents, Obesity and the Media AAP policy statement published in the July 2011 issue of Pediatrics.
The AAP recommends pediatricians encourage parents to discuss food advertising with their children, monitor their television viewing and teach good nutrition. It also asks pediatricians to work with other child health advocates at all government levels for bans on junk food advertising and restrictions on food advertising to children.
While these recommendations are to be commended, realistically, they can be challenging.
A study published in the August issue of the Journal of Children and Media found that children ages 3 to 5 were more likely to "nag" for low nutrition/high-calorie foods in the grocery store based on three factors: product packaging, cartoon characters and exposure to commercials.
Plus, food companies are a powerful and rich force for lawmakers. Among their contentions is that food marketing to children is a First Amendment-protected right to free speech. But not everyone agrees. An article published last month in Health Affairs stated that "the First Amendment does not protect ‘inherently misleading' commercial speech." The article, titled Government Can Regulate Food Advertising to Children Because Cognitive Research Shows That It Is Inherently Misleading , continues: "Cognitive research indicates that young children cannot effectively recognize the persuasive intent of advertising or apply the critical evaluation required to comprehend commercial messages."
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