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Advertising—promoting an unhealthy future?
Did you know that before children can speak, most can recognize Ronald McDonald (Spurlock 20)? Or that McDonalds distributes more toys per year than Toys-R-Us (Spurlock 19)? This is because many junk food and fast food companies, such as Chuck E. Cheese’s, Coca Cola, and McDonalds, target commercials at young children for the sole reason that it will probably make them life-long consumers. This means they will eat less of the rarely advertised, healthier alternatives, which can lead to obesity. And with an increasing amount of commercials viewed by kids each year, the epidemic of obesity has been growing in children and adolescents. For this reason, we should put a stop to advertising junk food, and instead we should promote healthier, more nutritious food choices.
People may not realize how the epidemic of obesity in children has grown in the past few decades. According to a recent report, “Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past forty years” (Mayer par. 7). Also, “The average kid watches forty-thousand commercials each year, twice as much as in the 1970’s” (Tartamella 70). These two trends have occurred in almost the same time period, leading doctors to believe the two are related. Their beliefs can be backed up with a study conducted by Stanford Medical School’s Thomas Robinson. In his study, Robinson observed third and fourth graders. He observed how a reduction in the amount of time spent watching television changed the amount of products the kids asked for. It turned out that “The children whose television viewing time declined made 70 percent fewer…requests [for advertised products] than those in the control group, whose media habits were unchanged” (Schor 67). This shows that the more advertisements one is exposed to, the more likely they are to consume the products. More often than not, those products are unhealthy foods.
Major advertising companies argue that the increasing amount of obesity in children—or in anyone—isn’t directly related to their food products and advertisements. They argue that the customer has to choose to buy the product. The companies claim it’s the parent to blame for the obesity, because they buy the food for their children. But many ads actually encourage kids to manipulate their parents into buying the food products for them, so it’s the advertising influence, and not just the parents who are contributing to the obesity trend. In fact, “Children between two and fifteen influence about $500 billion of purchases a year” (Mayer par. 9). This amount has doubled since 1993. All of this evidence links together: more advertising equals more consumption. More consumption leads to more money to spend on advertisements, and it also leads to obesity.
While the amount of advertisements viewed by kids has been increasing, very few have been for healthy foods. On average, “Three billion dollars [spent on ads aimed at kids each year] come from fast food companies…[while] the government spends $3.6 million each year on their Five-A-Day campaign” (Tartamella 70), a program to promote eating five servings of fruits and vegetables per day. The amount spent on advertising fast food products is 833 times more than the amount spent on the Five-A-Day campaign! People may argue in the government’s defense that it has many other things to spend federal money on. But what is more important than promoting healthier eating habits in children, leading to healthier lives and a healthier future?
You may wonder why so many advertisements are aimed at children and adolescents, and not at adults. Well, there are many reasons why the fast food industry, along with junk food companies, targets young children in their advertising. The chief reason is that “…gaining children as customers at a young age likely makes them customers for life” (Nestle par. 1). It is easy to gain children as customers at a young age because “Children under eight don’t understand the persuasive intent of marketing, and children under four don’t even know the difference between a program and its’ ads” (Healy par. 6). Instead, the kids think the ads are just giving you information, not trying to get you to buy their product (Schor 66).
By age four, most kids have set their life long food preferences (Healy par. 4). This means if they have already been exposed to junk food, most will want it their whole life, and it will be harder to get them to eat healthy foods instead. Junk food advertisers have taken advantage of this. The question is, why aren’t advertisers for healthier foods advertising to kids four and under? If kids were exposed to healthier foods earlier in life, and they thought it was “cool” to eat those healthy foods, a lot more kids would probably eat their government recommended five daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
Some countries don’t find it fair that children are falling into this advertising trap, especially because they can’t control it. This opinion has been shared by many, including the Swedish and Belgian governments, who “…forbid all advertising to kids on the premise that it’s immoral to market to gullible children” (Healy par. 2).
Although illegal in other countries, it is still legal in the United States to advertise junk food to children. The only restriction the government puts on television commercials is “…how much time ads can interrupt children’s programming—ten and a half minutes per hour on weekends and twelve minutes per hour during the week” (Wexler par. 20). Instead of the government limiting the amount of advertising to children, it would be better if the government created laws ensuring there were a certain number of minutes of commercials for healthy food on television per hour—which would, at the same time, limit commercials for unhealthy food.
If the current eating and advertising trends continue, “One in every three children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes sometime in their lifetime” as a result of becoming obese (Spurlock 11). Many people who have developed obesity have a much higher chance of becoming diabetic than non-obese people—especially if the obesity starts at a young age. Diabetes is only one of over twenty health problems obese people have a high chance of developing.
We cannot let obesity along with all of its related diseases overpower our country. We need to educate parents—along with kids—on healthier eating habits. We can start by bringing in more nutritious school lunches, and by limiting junk food advertisements in children’s programs, magazines, and on websites. Restaurants can reduce serving sizes, because most restaurant portions are many times larger than what is recommended for a balanced diet. We could make it mandatory that the restaurants bring in healthier alternatives. Most of all, by not supporting the products advertised in commercials and by having the government require an increased number of commercials for healthy foods in programs for children, obesity rates should decrease significantly.
There has been a growing amount of junk food advertisements directed at children and adolescents in the past few decades. This has lead to an increased amount of junk food consumption in our country, leading to obesity, and if it continues our country can and will suffer.
“Marketers will do whatever they can to encourage even the youngest children to ask for advertised products in the hope of enticing young people to become life-time customers…” (Nestle par. 33). So, if we don’t buy the products, the food producers will not make money. If the food companies don’t make money, they won’t be able to advertise their products. And if they don’t advertise their products, future generations won’t be bombarded with unhealthy food. All in all, stopping the advertisers will be the only way to keep them from targeting children, and it will stop our children from ruining their bodies and themselves—ruining our future.
Abramovitz, Melissa. Obesity (Diseases and Disorders). Farmington Hills: Lucent Books,
Banzef, John. “Interview with John Banzef.” Super Size Me.
Healy, Bernadine. "Why Our Kids Are Fat." U.S. News & World Report v139, i24
(2005). 11 Feb 2006
Mayer, Caroline E. "Report critical of junk-food ads; TV fuels obesity in children | Panel
says Congress, companies should promote nutrition: [Fourth Edition]." Seattle Times. Washington: 7 Dec. 2005. Proquest Direct. Eckstein Library. Seattle. http://proquest.umi.com. (11 Feb 2006). Pars. 7, 9.
Nestle, Marion. "The Fast Food Industry Intentionally Markets Unhealthy Foods to
Children." Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. (12 Feb. 2006). http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/OVRC. Pars. 1, 33.
Schlosser, Eric. "Interview with Eric Schlosser, author of Fast Food Nation." Super Size
Me: A Film of Epic Portions.
Schor, Juliet B. Born To Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer
Culture. New York: Scribner, 2004: pp. 66-67.
Spurlock, Morgan. "Super Size Me: A Film of Epic Portions." Video Archive. 11 Feb
2006: Scenes 11-25.
Tartamella, Lisa, Chris Woolston, and Elaine Herscher. Generation Extra Large:
Rescuing Our Children from the Epidemic of Obesity. New York: Basic Books, 2004: p. 70.
Wexler, Barbara. "Diet, Nutrition, and Weight Issues among Children and Adolescents."
Weight In America: Obesity, Eating Disorders, and Other Health Risks. Information Plus® Reference Series. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Seattle Public Library. Seattle. Thomson Gale, 2005.
http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/OVRC. (12 February 2006) par. 20.