What do you remember about Saturday morning TV as a kid? Cartoons with superheroes and anthropomorphized farm animals? What about the commercials, do you remember them?
The average child will see up to 4700 food commercials on TV a year, the majority of which promote unhealthy food choices. In fact, one study found that food most commonly marketed to children is often 3 times higher in sugar, and 2.5 times higher in fat than the recommended daily intake. And kids are paying attention. Young children have a hard time telling the difference between commercials and television shows, and while teenagers are more media savvy, they are also more effected by online advertising which often offers entertainment or emotional value.
Studies have shown that kid centric marketing effects children’s food preferences and overall diet. When researchers asked what the difference between ‘kid food’ and ‘adult food’ was, children identified sugary snacks as being for kids, whereas produce based foods such as salad were meant for adults. This has contributed to the ~17% obesity rate in American children, putting those effected at risk of noncommunicable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease later in life.
While policy continues to develop to reduce marketing of unhealthy foods to children, there are some things you can do in your own home to lessen the negative effects. Media literacy has positive impacts on children’s understanding of advertisements; ask your children about the food being advertised and explain that someone is trying to sell them something. You can also ask your children what else might be tasty, focusing on healthier choices, without trash talking the junk food as that may have opposite the intended outcome. Advertising doesn’t stop at the TV; discuss labels on the front of food packages and compare that to the information in the nutrition panel. Does the nutrition information match their expectations based on front of package labels?
We’re all striving to do our best You can help yourself and your children by modelling good behavior such as regular physical activity, filling half your plate with fruits and veggies, and looking to dietitians for solid nutrition related advice.