The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that children are subject to a staggering seven hours of media each day in the form of television, computers, phones, and electronic devices. Personally, in our household, screen time is very much limited. But lets be honest, no matter how much you try to shield your kids from screens and everything that goes along with them, it’s virtually (pardon the pun) impossible.
The issue at hand here is not how much they’re watching television or playing on their iPhone; it’s the marketing that’s being shoved in their faces during most waking hours–in particular, food marketing to kids.
What Studies Show
The Center for Science in the Public Interest reviewed 28 hours of Nickelodeon programming last October (2012) and noted that of the food ads shown, 69% were for items of poor nutritional value (sugary cereals, candy/fruit snacks, flavored yogurt, fast food, etc.). And in total, according to The Food Marketing Workgroup, the junk-food industry spends almost $2 billion a year on marketing to young people.
The concerns are many when it comes to marketing to kids, especially when considering the ever increasing obesity rates. Jessica Castonguay, a Doctoral Candidate in Communications at the University of Arizona, recently participated in a study assessing whether childhood obesity is linked to clever marketing tactics. “Unfortunately our study found that health messages are frequently used to advertise foods that are not particularly healthy,” she says of their findings. “Implying that a cereal gives kids the energy to make them better athletes, despite the fact that it has more than 10 grams of sugar per serving, seems misleading. I want children to learn the difference between truly healthy choices and occasional treats. My fear is that advertisers are blurring those lines.”
We all know that marketing tactics and words can be confusing, even as educated adults. The words “natural,” “real,” “whole grain,” or “whole wheat” are just some of the terms that get used in various contexts. If we have a tough time wading our way through the terms, how in the world can we expect kids to have any luck?
Studies have shown that food advertising can contribute to numerous health problems, including being overweight, which, by the way, has increased to 35% of children aged 6-11. Even on a day-to-day basis, it’s just plain annoying to have kids ask for foods and products they see on TV that they’d otherwise not know about, ones that many of us try to steer them away from as best as we can. And since we’re talking about it, how cool would it be to see advertisements for vegetables or fruits coupled with a kid-known celebrity or cartoon character (hint-hint, Ad Council)?