It’s Time to Change the Way We Think About Food Advertisements

By: Michelle Kaminski

Growing up, my plates of food were always filled with color. 

No, this was not the color of multiple fruits or vegetables, but instead Red 40, Yellow 5, and Blue 2. These were some of the food dyes used to color my Gushers, Fruit Roll-Ups, yogurts, cereals, and even rainbow ketchup and oatmeal. The grocery trips that led to such sugar-laden monstrosities were inspired by my hours of watching cartoons, which tended to be interspersed with manic commercials of rainbow foods, singing kids, and loud music. I still remember the line “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for Kids!” and the famous Sprouse twins’ feature in the Danimals crush cup commercials. Every year, marketing forces define what foods are viewed as popular to children and adolescents without providing nutritional information. If the amount of unhealthy food advertisements to which children are exposed does not decrease, the percentage of childhood obesity will only go up.

In the United States (U.S), food and beverage advertisements contribute to childhood obesity. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), children in the U.S exposed to one hundred television advertisements for sugar-sweetened carbonated soft drinks had a 9.4% rise in their soft-drink consumption (Andreyeva et al., 2011). 

Although this statistic seems frightening, there is something policymakers can do at the national level to help tackle childhood and adolescent obesity: implement a policy by the Federal Communications Commission to minimize the marketing of unhealthy foods.

This policy, which would lessen the number of advertisements featured on social media, is crucial since obesity can turn into major health problems. NCBI’s 2004 study also concluded that advertising has a correlation to the body mass index (B.M.I) of children being over the 85th percentile (Andreyeva et al., 2011). In addition to affecting B.M.I, obesity increases the likelihood of high blood pressure and type II diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2019) state that in the U.S, 90-95% of diabetes cases are type II diabetes and about half a million deaths were due to high blood pressure in 2018 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020). 

Health statistics make clear that we need to place a cap on these advertisements and do something similar to what is already being done in the United Kingdom (U.K). In an effort to curb obesity, Bloomberg wrote of a plan implemented by the U.K government which bans television advertisements of foods high in sugar before 9 pm (Morales and Swint, 2020). 

Currently, there have been few federal policies implemented in the U.S. The Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI) was created in 2007 for advertising companies to pledge to only advertise products that met the strict nutrition criteria set by the initiative (BBB National Programs). Despite the hopes of the CFBAI, most of the companies which pledged to this initiative still advertised nutritionally deficient food to children and adolescents. 

A new policy in place could face pushback. Brand awareness helps consumers pick brands, such as Kellogg’s, when shopping for a product over brands that are advertised less. Although brand awareness is a source of revenue for advertisers, public health trumps advert money which is clear during present times of a global public health pandemic. 

Besides, policymakers blame parents for children’s excessive media time; however, sometimes children are exposed to advertisements at friends’ houses. I remember watching television shows with my friend at her house and seeing dancing milk cartoons and leprechauns singing catchy songs during the breaks. The smiling, singing characters tempted me to try the newest chocolate bars and packaged sweets that were advertised as breakfast meals.

Parents can join advocacy organizations to implement healthy school lunches and limit their child’s exposure time to television; however, none of these options are enough to solve the overall problem of the number of unhealthy food advertisements being aired. In advocacy and task-force groups, parents usually come together to discuss changes being made in schools and discuss the effects marketing forces have on unhealthy food consumption. They also press for governments to have further controls to be established at the societal level. For changes to be implemented, usually policymakers need to be involved.

If we want children and adolescents to be exposed to less unhealthy food advertisements when watching television, then policymakers need to create a federal limit on the number of advertisements that are shown per day and address the marketing forces directly. A federal limit on television ads for unhealthy foods can only be done with the help of policy and governmental action; this will prevent children and adolescents from initially being introduced to certain non-nutritious foods. While the Trix jingles may fade and the Danimals mantle will not pass to the next progeny of Sprouse twins, this action will serve a greater good, by reducing the impact these commercials have on childhood and adolescent obesity.

Reference List:

Andreyeva, T., Kelly, I. R., & Harris, J. L. (2011). Exposure to food advertising on television: associations with children’s fast food and soft drink consumption and obesity. Economics and human biology, 9(3), 221–233. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ehb.2011.02.004

BBB National Programs. (n.d.). Children’s Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative. Retrieved from https://bbbprograms.org/programs/all-programs/cfbai

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019, May 30). Type 2 Diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/type2.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, September 08). Facts About Hypertension. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/facts.htm

Morales, A., & Swint, B. (2020, July 27). U.K. Businesses See Obesity Plan Raising Prices, Hurting Economy. Retrieved from https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-26/u-k-plans-to-fight-obesity-with-ad-bans-more-calorie-labels

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: