I noticed an interesting phenomenon the other day. As I sat down to watch my favorite show on television, I started closely observing the commercials. A few car commercials passed and then a commercial for Pretzel M&M’s, a few more commercials were played and then a McDonald’s commercial. I also saw a commercial for Snickers and Pepsi. These were the only food commercials that came on during the entirety of the television show.
Have you ever seen an advertisement for fruits or vegetables? Probably not, and if you have I’m sure you haven’t seen many. Now try to think about the foods that you have seen advertised. Advertisements for sodas, chips, fast food, sports drinks, and candy bombard our television screens and invade our magazine pages. Children are influenced easily, and when all they see on television are advertisements for candy and soda, they are going to want to eat those products. This is a very simple concept, however little is being done to change this practice.
For youngsters, perception is everything. Companies can only dream for their advertisements to work as well on the general public as they do on children. A child’s thought process is simple. They see something that interests them, and then they exclaim, “I want it.” If healthy foods are not advertised, children will not want to eat them. However, when a child views an M&M’s commercial with walking, talking characters and bright colors, he/she is going to be immediately interested in the candy. In fact, most children are exposed to thousands of these types of advertisements each year.
Advertising affects our choices as consumers. That’s its purpose. That’s why companies spend billions of dollars each year on advertising. Children view advertisements for unhealthy foods and decide to purchase and consume those foods. This decision to eat the unhealthy foods advertised during their favorite television shows is a major factor in our nation’s childhood obesity rates.
Advertising unhealthy food is nothing new, and in 2007 numerous food and beverage companies banded together under the Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative to voluntarily regulate the content advertised to children. Now you might be wondering the same thing that I was when I learned of this. Why do we still see so many advertisements for unhealthy foods? The ugly truth is that this initiative made only a small dent in the problem. Foods considered to be of the worst nutritional quality made up 84% of food advertising directed towards children in 2005. In 2009, this number dropped to 72.5%. This is simply not enough. Another shocking statistic is that only 1% of food advertisements directed towards children are for truly healthy foods.
What’s more is that the Institute of Medicine issued a report concluding that, as suspected, food marketing influences the diets of children. These influenced diets help contribute to higher obesity rates. So, now we see that children are exposed to thousands of advertisements encouraging them to eat unhealthy foods, and that these advertisements truly affect their eating habits.
While we might think we are telling the youth of this nation to eat healthy, in reality they are being told the exact opposite. This practice, if we want to see a decrease in obesity and other health conditions related to poor diets, needs to stop. Thinking that The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative would help was wishful thinking. At the end of the day businesses exist for one reason, to make money. These companies would never voluntarily jeopardize their revenue streams. Therefore, I do not think the blame should be focused on food and beverage companies. I think the government has a responsibility to take action against these marketing tactics.
I believe that the government should limit the advertising budgets for these food and beverage companies. The government can even go as far as to direct the major food and beverage companies to contribute money to campaigns for healthy diets. Without government intervention, I simply cannot see any changes in food marketing taking place in the future.
Let’s take a look at the tobacco industry. After the health effects of tobacco were confirmed, the government
passed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act banning all cigarette advertisements on television and radio. Will we see a similar fate for unhealthy foods? I certainly do not believe we will. I think the government should limit the amount of advertising allowed for unhealthy foods in order to help fight this nation’s obesity epidemic. Banning marketing for such foods altogether seems extreme and – in my opinion – unnecessary. However, I’m sure people had exactly the same thoughts about cigarette advertising.