Thursday, March 29, 2007
Advertising to kids hurts your wallet... and their health?
When my daughter was about 5, we went through, what I called the Simba phase: Simba purse, Simba wallet, Simba sneakers. Everything that child owned had the cute, little, yellow lion from the "Lion King" emblazoned on it. I was Simba sick.
After that it was Belle shorts, a Jasmine umbrella, a Pocahontas backpack. It got to be too much. The characters were on cereal boxes, candy bars, even hot dogs! I was thrilled when she finally traded in Aladdin for Alan, the boy down the street.
Parents are no match for cartoon characters. How to deny your little precious person a singing teapot, or a talking fish? And if that chanting china or stuttering sturgeon eats Popsicles, sorry, you've got to buy those too.
And that's the power of TV food ads for kids. They are just that - targeted at kids. The marketing experts in Manhattan know exactly what kids want. The problem is that many ads on TV depict food products that aren't very healthy - mostly candy, snacks, chips and sweet drinks such as soda. And with childhood obesity skyrocketing, medical experts say that flashing these ads in front of our children on a Saturday morning and after school puts the wrong messages in young, impressionable minds.
This week, the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit, private organization that focuses on major U.S. health care issues, unveiled a survey of close to 9,000 food ads for kids. It's the largest study every conducted on food advertising for children. The results are staggering. During children's programming, one out of every two ads is for food. Of those ads, 34 percent were for candy and snacks, 28 percent for cereal and 10 percent for fast food. Not one advertised fruits or vegetables. And only 15 percent of the ads showed children involved in some type of physical activity. And those public service announcements that push exercise and good nutrition? The average child sees one of them every two to three days! (See full story)
Health experts say that's wrong and that kids' advertising needs to be more balanced. If youngsters are going to be bombarded with poor food choices, they should also get information on what makes a healthy lifestyle.
This is not the first study on children's advertising and food. In December 2005, the Institute of Medicine found that advertising has a direct impact on kids' diets and health and can contribute to childhood obesity. The IOM recommended that if the industry didn’t give its advertising a healthier focus, Congress should enact legislation to regulate TV food ads for kids.
That idea has gotten the attention of food companies. PepsiCo, which own Pepsi, Frito-Lay & Tropicana, says it's changing its ads and pushing only healthier products, such as baked chips, and depicting more physical activities in commercials. Michael McGinnis of the IOM says that's a good first step and that the industry may be getting the hint.
Also those talking fish and singing pots? You see them less often. Major corporations including Disney have decided to limit the use of their characters in ads for foods deemed unhealthy.
So how do we parents limit these ads' influence on our kids? Well, you can turn off the TV, but even an active child deserves a little R&R on a weekend morning. I think we need to take some responsibility. Make sure our kids are active by getting them off the couch. And watch what they eat and check out what they are viewing on TV. If they cry for the candy with the funny sponge man on it, just say no. Or limit what they can have. Try to avoid the Simba phase and take charge of your child's health.
What do you think?
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