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?
I agree. Children are so easily swayed by ads, that it is irresponsible of the big companies to take advantage of their young minds. I don't remember eating Disney cereal or Superhero candy when I was a kid. Guess they'll do anything for a dollar.
I must have nerves of steel.


Because I don't CARE what they want. If I deem it unhealthy or a waste of money, I say NO. I usually don't have to say it more than once, either. After ten years, my children know that when I say NO, I NEVER back down. EVER. Mom wins, period. And if they whine, they get into trouble and lose something they already have.

It's definitely an incentive for them not to whine if I say NO, isn't it?
You go Sharla! Now that is what being a parent is all about.

The ads aren't to blame for what our children want. It's the parents who give into their children and buy them what they want whether it be food or material things. I never had a HoHo or a Ding Dong up until I was 30 years old! My parents rarely bought junk food so I grew up without it. If more parents were like mine and Sharla, this topic wouldn't even exist.
This same study showed that kids are watching 12-21 food ads a day, the majority for junk foods. None are for fruits and vegetables. As Margo Whooten pointed out, can you imagine if we did 12-21 one minute blurbs on fruits and vegetables a day for our kids? Nag,nag,nag...

Why don't the major growers of fruits and vegetables bond together, hire a creative ad firm, and finance fun colorful ads for kids? If you can make Geico insurance fun, positively impressionable and memorable, why can't you the same for fruits and vegetables?

In the meantime, I agree, turn off the tube. (
We are still asking for an oversized government to yet be a bigger nanny. What parents need is the total responsibility to teach children the old addage, don't believe everything you see on television. Parents alone can make kids wise, responsible, and mature when kids learn choices and responsibility. Cheaper that way and avoids we the tax payer's expense asking congress to invade, asking big brother to regulate. Congress should concentrate on global warming and troop withdrawal, not advertising and not wrecking enterprise's income. Candy manufacturers have kids and I'll bet they make them eat vegetables!
I agree with Sharla. After all, who's the parent, you or the TV? Who's in charge, you or your kid?

I may not be a parent, but I WAS a kid once. Sure I got candy and the like sometimes, but when mom (or dad) said no, it meant no. Sure, I wanted that spiffy stuff advertised on TV, but when mom said no, it meant no. Sure, some of the kids at school had it. If it ws a toy, hey, wow, if that kid was my friend we could SHARE! How novel! I didn't need my own if somebody else had that nifty toy and would share it with me. But foods.... I learned from the get-go what was good for me and what wasn't.

Of course, there was always the looming threat of "don't eat too much of that stuff, it'll make you sick".

I saw plenty of commercials for junk food as a kid. Quite honestly I think the ads of the 80s were so much flashier and cooler than what we've got now (but I may be biased... even at 22 I sometimes feel old when I get blank stares mentioning my old favorite shows), I would sometimes beg for something, but it was instilled in me early that no means no.

I've been told many first-time parents don't realize just how early kids start to learn how far they can badger you. They don't even have to be talking yet. You have to be on it, and willing to administer tough love. And as far as I can tell being partially deaf might help. I couldn't imagine trying to raise a kid, so I can only guess how hard it must be. But watching my baby cousin grow up, he's not even 2 years old yet and he's got a pretty good handle on how things work, and who will let him get away with what.

But you can't put the blame on the advertisers. After all, they wouldn't be advertising that way if it didn't WORK. And I don't think our 5-year-olds are driving themselves to the store to buy junk food.

If mom decided we could have ice cream, we had it. If she decided we couldn't that day, we didn't. If she decided to get me a new toy/bookbag/those funky light-up shoes that were the in thing for all of a year, I was grateful because I knew I didn't always get what I wanted. If I couldn't get it, sometimes I felt it was unfair, but usually I knew there was a reason. Because mom usually also gave her reasons for things. I think maybe if she'd just said "no junk food" or "you can't have that toy", it might not have been as effective as saying "that's not healthy" or "I don't think that toy is appropriate for you/we need to save up to buy something else right now". Yeah, okay, if I started to throw a fit (which I'm told I stopped doing at a very young age, and I must have because I don't really remember it), it was a flat "no", anything my parents were going to buy me got put back on the shelf, I got taken to the car, and my sister and whichever parent hadn't gone with me would finish shopping. And the behaved child would still get to keep whatever it was my parents were going to buy us both. It drove a clear connection between the two. I scream and whine for something mom says I can't have, I can't have this other thing either. But my sister didn't scream and whine, so she got to keep that other thing.

I figure the biggest problem is a lot of parents, though they must know, don't fully realize the impact of the fact that sometimes, their child will not like them. And I think it's hard to say no if you've done so once and gotten a hurt look, and you're not used to having to keep a spare stone heart lying around for it. Heck, I even have issues with my pets sometimes. And admittedly even with my pets I sometimes break down. It's what led to my cat getting tuna every time I eat it (well, that and the fact that nothing I do will stop her from climbing all over me to try and reach my fork before it gets in my mouth unless I distract her at her bowl... it's her only real weakness in the behavior department). It also led to my giving up on the "no dogs on the furniture" rule when one gave me "the eyes" when I tried to get her off my couch. We can think we're strong-willed and able to put up with any type of pleading until it really happens, I think. So naturally, when parents run across their kid begging for the expensive toy or the sugary junk food, it's very hard to resist.

But as the parent, you HAVE to resist. After all, you're the one that knows better.
Call me crazy, but maybe if kids were outside playing, instead of sitting on their hind-ends watching tv, this would not be such an issue.
Great article! The media does manipulate our children into believing that they "need" to have the latest fashion. I believe that if we as parents try to get our kids involved in other activities which are not directly related to them being in front of the TV, maybe this would cut down on the amount of media influence on our kids.

All the best.

Alicia Howard
Deja-Fit Lifestyle Fitness Coaching for Women
Well this is all quite sickening. I myself am only 14 and everyday I see a milllion different items with the same icon on them.
Saying no is hard. You should want your child to be happy. To have everything they want and more. I mean why not?
But these people advertise unhealthy things and things that are worthless.
Children are getting more and more obese everyday. And it's sickening.
Why cant companies come up with healthy items.
As for the hurting "your" wealth - we have our boys pay for the "extras". If they want brand-name anything (or extra snacks) they have holiday and birthday money they can use.

Because of this strategy our 3 boys have become savvy consumers. They evaluate whether a purchase is "worth" it. They watch commercials and TELL US what the marketers are doing to make them want the toy/snack/shoe.

This strategy has also cut down on the junk food they want because if they ask for a candy bar or chips we ask if they want to pay for it. Usually they don't. We could probably take this strategy one step further by showing them how health eating is less expensive than unhealthy eating. That we would be helping their health and future wealth at the same time.

When they get older, maybe this will all change, but until then, we as parents are not going to let Madison Avenue/Hollywood dictate our sons' consumer purchases.
I just had to respond to the person who said "health eating is less expensive than unhealthy eating". I couldn't disagree more. While it is true that eating out is more expensive than eating at home, but cooking healthy meals IS more expensive. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not cheap, brown rice is more expensive than white rice, hearty 100% whole wheat bread is more expensive than white, lean chicken, beef, or pork is more expensive (just look at the price difference between 70/30 ground beef and 96/4), almost everything that 100% whole grain or low-fat or made with good heart-healthy oils or low-sodium is more expensive. It's sad that cooking your own healthy, nutritious meals is much more expensive then tossing some tater tots and fish sticks in the oven.
Instead of worrying what advertising does to their children, parents have to become proactive. Business and its influence are no substitute for family and its influence, as business owners are looking after their own interest and nobody elses. America is getting sicker, more obese, and dumber as parents increasingly allow business to take over parental functions. If anybody is able to stop this trend, it is the parents. Thus, parents should get rid of their cable or satelite subscription; they should ditch their large TV sets and get a tiny, smaller one, instead; finally, they should spend more time with their children to get to really know and to influence them positively as long as they can. There is no substitute for parents; no gadget or service can replace the love and mentoring of a mother or father. Period.
I am pretty torn on this issue, there are a lot of ins and outs, a lot of interested parties:

1. For one thing, I think that the advertising industry is out of control and that serious limits should be set regarding the content of commercials (particularly those involving pharmaceuticals). There already are, to some extent. However, there are all kinds of concerns that if we set more limits on this speech, that our whole freedom of speech could be put in jeopardy. Scary thought, but the problem - in my opinion - is that we need to really differentiate corporate speech from human speech, and realize that human free speech is fundamental, but corporations have a completely different set of realities and motivations - they aren't trying to express themselves, they are trying to inundate us with messages to give them our hard-earned money.
2. Another side - I think that corporations should be more responsible with what they make and do. Network executives should be more responsible with who/what advertises on their programs. I favor putting pressure on those two groups to be more healthy and responsible with the impact they have on the world.
3. But I do think that parents have a serious responsibility to be more conscious of what their children watch and eat. Much of the media's influence on kids can be moderated with a reasonable parental figure discussing things with a kid, and making sure they are able to critically examine the messages they receive, and that healthy habits are enforced. However, our economic system is such that most parents work at least one job, and are tired and unavailable for these duties - it is difficult to come home after a long day at work and overcome the incessant pestering of children for things they think they want. This is something that we, as a society, need to address - how to give kids back their parents and let families (rather than daycare centers) actually raise their children.
4. On another hand, at some point we are all responsible for filtering out the images and messages that we receive, and it is kind of scary to think about the logical evolution of media control. I don't think that anybody really wants the thought police deciding what information is appropriate to socialize our youth (or adults) into whatever they want them to be. We know that media messages are influential, so we need to be really careful what we try and change them into. That's my 10 cents, anyway. . .
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