Advertising and Childhood Obesity

We have all been exposed to advertisements: interruptions in our daily television and radio programming, printed advertisements disrupting articles in newspapers and magazines, required viewing prior to watching videos online, large signage in stores, schools and on billboards, products placed strategically around a store, promotional giveaways, viral content, media tie-ins, downloadable content.
Many of us have been exposed to any and all of these advertising types since we were children. As technology and media continue to develop, companies have developed strategies to continue to put their products in front of consumers.

The most demonstrative example of this is in advertising towards children. What are the primary products advertised to children? Toys. Media. Food. Lots of food. Lots of unhealthy food: breakfast cereals, snack foods, candy, dairy products, baked goods, sweetened beverages, cold desserts, restaurant foods.
Public health experts and consumer advocates are becoming increasingly alarmed: 1 in 3 American children are overweight or obese. Children may experience coincidental social discrimination and psychological distress in addition to developing medical conditions that were previously only diagnosed in adults. These ailments can follow them into adulthood, and continue to tax an already overburdened healthcare system.
This makes food advertising and marketing towards children particularly controversial. While there are many contributing factors to childhood obesity, unhealthy food advertisements have been identified as a playing a separate and specific role. Studies have been conducted evaluating multiple aspects of food marketing as it relates to children:

  • the association between advertisements of unhealthy foods and childhood obesity rates
  • the amount of screen time (tv, computer, mobile) of children in different age groups related to placement, type, and frequency of advertisements
  • the media literacy rates of children in different age groups, including distinguishing programming from advertising, advertising intent, and impulse control as they relate to food purchasing and consumption.
  • the development of intergenerational brand loyalty
  • children’s repeated purchase requests after repeated advertisement exposure, which may influence parents’ purchasing habits
  • snacking behavior and its biological ramifications in relation to food advertisements
  • children’s behavior in establishing food habits (making their own food choices and purchasing power) during the critical stage of development: between ages 8-12
  • the use of technology to actively engage children in brand-related activities (online games, etc.)
  • federal, state, and local attempts to enact laws and regulations on the food industry
  • effectiveness of self-regulation within the food industry

So what can we do? As parents, we have several options from promoting healthy snacks and an active lifestyle to restricting screen time, being stalwart against repeated requests for junk food. Stepping outside of our families, we can advocate for change in our children’s schools or on a legislative level, create advertising promoting healthy food choices, push the food industry to increase their commitment and standards of self-regulation.

We all have to work together to combat childhood obesity. Contact the experts at the Metabolic Medical Centers for programs specifically designed for child and adolescent weight loss.

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