Junk Food Marketing Directed to Children
The average American child is exposed to an estimated 40,000 television commercials a year — much of it for junk foods. Advertisers spend $15 billion dollars a year on advertising directed at kids. This is an increase of two and half times since 1992.
Children’s programming is only slightly regulated by a 1990 law limiting commercials to 10½ minutes per hour on weekends and 12 minutes per hour on weekdays.
Many of the ads are for sugary cereals, salty snacks, candy, and fast foods. Programs like SpongeBob SquarePants are essentially program-length commercials for foods whose labels feature the licensed characters.
Among children and adolescents from ages 6 through 19, obesity rates have tripled over the past 40 years. Obesity increases the risks of type 2 diabetes and many other diseases and health conditions.
Kids are a targeted consumer market.
Margo C. Wooten, Director, Nutrition Policy of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (SCPI) said in a 2003 report, “Parents are fighting a losing battle against food manufacturers and fast-food restaurants. Those companies use aggressive and sophisticated marketing techniques to get into children’s heads, attract their attention, manipulate their food choices, and prompt them to pester their parents to purchase products.”
Consider these findings from a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation:
For children under the age of 2:
More than four in 10 (43 percent) of children under the age of 2 watch TV every day and nearly one in five (18 percent) watch videos or DVDs every day. Most parents (88 percent) of these under-2-year-olds who watch TV every day say they are in the same room with their child while they are watching TV either all or most of the time. Seventy-four percent of all infants and toddlers have watched TV before the age of 2. A child’s first request for a product is at age 2.
For children under the age of 6:
On average, they spend about two hours a day with screen media (the same amount of time as they spend playing outside) and three times as much time as they spend reading or being read to. Seventy-seven percent turn on the TV by themselves. Sixty-two percent use the remote to change channels and 71 percent ask for their favorite videos or DVDs. For more information: see the Kaiser Family Foundation’s report on Children and Electronic Media.
America is far behind other countries in protecting children from predatory advertisers. Countries such as Sweden, Norway, Belgium and Austria have imposed a ban on advertising during children’s television programs. TV advertising and sponsorship of programs aimed at children below the age of 12 are prohibited. In Austria and the Flemish part of Belgium no advertising is permitted 5 minutes before or after programs for children.
In Britain, The Independent Television Commission’s code on advertising says, “No method of advertising may be employed which takes advantage of the natural credulity and sense of loyalty of children.”
Small steps are being taken in the U.S. to counter predatory marketing to children. McDonald’s popular Happy Meal will no longer include a toy in Santa Clara, California. On April 27, The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors banned toys in kids’ meals with more than 485 calories, more than 600 mg of salt or high amounts of sugar or fat.
Ultimately it’s up to parents to be informed about the consequences of junk and fast foods. Removing toys from unhealthy foods is not punishing children, but is a indicator that many parents are being influenced by advertising campaigns directed at their children. (To learn how toys and fictional characters can help you transform your picky eater into a healthy eater Click Here.)
Prevent Pester Power with Parent Power
>Limit TV viewing (Don’t use the TV as a babysitter).
>Prerecord programs on TiVo and speed through commercials.
>Watch videos without commercials.
>Explain to older children how advertisers work to get you to purchase their product.
>Teach them to think critically about marketing messages they see on TV.
>Encourage children to earn the money and save up for items they want.
>Especially in tough economic times, reassure your children that they will be safe and taken care of.
>Don’t have junk food in the house. Come up with healthy treats for your children.
>Be a good example.
>Learn the power of “NO.”
>What every child wants is to be loved. Give your children time and attention.