We can see many food advertisements on TV, in magazines, and on various social media sites. Food advertisements are inevitable in our lives. However, how does food marketing change today? How does junk food advertising affect children’s food choices? What kinds of consequences happen to the children? Should junk food Ads for kids be banned?
When you can stop your kids from watching the junk food Ads on TV, you probably cannot avoid the same junk food Ads pop out on your kids’ phones and social media. According to Children’s exposure to unhealthy food and beverage advertisements on smartphones and tablets in social media and gaming applications research, which was released by the University of Ottawa in 2018, kids are exposed to food marketing on their favorite social media apps 111 times a week on average, equating to 5772 food and beverage ads per year on those apps alone. The companies promoted most frequently were McDonald’s (15%) followed by Starbucks (11%), PepsiCo (9%), Mars (5%), Coca-Cola (5%), and Restaurant Brand International (5%). The most frequently promoted food categories were fast food (44%), sugar-sweetened beverages (9%), candy and chocolates (7%), snacks (6%), and alcohol (5%). From the study, we can see that now, food marketing changes its target audience to kids.
So, How does junk food advertising affect children’s food choices? When you go the groceries, you must have seen a kid arguing with their parents to buy some snacks that favor cartoon characters on the packaging. When you go to school, you must have seen some students keep buying the same junk food product only for the credits that can exchange other presents. If you give kids a bowl of vegetable soup and a bowl of cereal with chocolate milk, they probably will choose the second one. Why? There is an article about Canadian kids bombarded with more than 25M junk food and drink ads online every year by Carmen Chai from Global News; on average, children watch two hours of TV a day and four to five food and drink advertisements every hour.
For those junk food advertisements, food companies design attractive food packaging and use kid’s favorite cartoons to make commercial videos. However, kids do not understand how the company produces those foods; they do not know what is healthy or unhealthy; they can only recognize their favorite cartoons and colorful snack packaging. The terrible thing is that those junk food companies are trying to teach kids what to eat through commercial campaigns and Ads.
Now, the problem is that junk food Ads is causing kids’ health problem, such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some kinds of cancers. According to the Childhood Obesity Foundation Statistic, between 1978/79 and 2004, the combined prevalence of overweight and obesity among those aged two to 17 years increased from 23 percent to 34 percent. Obesity rates doubled from 6% to 12 %. Rates of unhealthy weights have since stabilized, with the incidence of childhood obesity holding at 12% according to 2015 data[i]. If junk food Ads keep influencing kids’ minds, future childhood obesity will be higher than anticipated.
Today, kids are growing up surrounded by unhealthy food choices. According to American Heart Association (AHA) recommendations, A kid ages 2 to 18 years old should not eat more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar per day and less than 8 ounces of sugary drinks every week. However, one Coca-Cola contains 39 grams of sugar, which exceeds the average daily sugar intake of 14 grams of children. If a child drinks one can of Coke per day, their sugar intake will exceed 98 grams (19.6 teaspoons); and we know that overeating sugar is one of the reasons causing obesity.
Here, I cannot agree more that what Anna Lappe said on the TedTalk show, “Leave parenting to us. Don’t tell children what’s good to put into their bodies. My children, all of our children-are none of your business.” (13:53-14:14) Today, protecting children is not only their parents’ business but also for future kids. If we are not trying our best to protect kids from affecting junk food Ads, more and more children will suffer from obesity, which will also affect their health when they become adults. So, junk food Ads for kids should be banned.