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TV Food and Beverage Adds Directed at Kids Are Often Unhealthy

Harold Mandel's picture
A high calorie fat filled burger

The tragic problem of childhood obesity has been increasing to almost epidemic levels in the United States and worldwide. Obesity is a dangerous condition for both the mental and physical health of kids. Poor lifestyles and poor diets are contributing to the problem of childhood obesity. Recent research suggests that TV advertisements directed at kids is making this problem a lot worse by playing up unhealthy foods and beverages.

In view of the high rates of childhood obesity, investigations of the nutritional value of food and beverage products in television advertisements which children are exposed to has great relevance, reports the journal Childhood Obesity. Research has shown that the majority of food and beverage products which are seen in TV ads by children fail to meet the federal Interagency Working Group nutrition recommendations. Furthermore, products which are advertised on children's programming are particularly of low nutritional quality, which suggests that self-regulation has not successfully protected children from exposure to advertising for unhealthy foods.

Research has found that TV ads are nutritionally unhealthy for kids, writes the University of Illinois at Chicago in a news release on Dec. 17, 2013. According to University of Illinois at Chicago researchers, the nutritional value of food and drinks which is advertised on children’s television programs is worse than food which is shown in ads during general air time. The researchers used Nielsen TV ratings data to examine exposure of kids to food and beverage ads which are seen on both adult and children’s TV programming. The researchers also reviewed the nutritional content of ads on children’s shows which have a child-audience share of 35 percent or more.

The researchers evaluated the nutritional content of products which were advertised to determine if they fit the proposed voluntary nutrition guidelines which have been recommended by the Interagency Working Group on Food Marketed to Children. These products included:

1: Cereals

2: Sweets

3: Snacks

4: Beverages

5: Other foods

In the proposed federal guidelines, which is a joint effort of the Federal Trade Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are limitations on saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and sodium, because of their potential negative effects on health or body weight. The study also took note of which of the ads were from food companies which had pledged to promote healthier products to children or to refrain from targeting children in their advertising.

Lisa Powell, who is professor of health policy and administration in the UIC School of Public Health and lead author of the study, said, “We found that less than half of children’s exposure to ads for food and beverage products comes from children’s programming, meaning that a significant portion of exposure is not subject to self-regulation.” The researchers discovered that greater than 84 percent of food and beverage ads which are seen by children between 2 and 11 years old, on all programming combined, were for products which are high in fats, sugars and sodium. And believe it or not, on children’s programming, greater than 95 percent of the ads were for products which are high in those unhealthy contents.

Just about all Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative ads seen on children’s programming failed to meet the recommended federal nutrition principles. Greater than 97 percent of these products were for products which are high in fats, sugars and sodium. Although many foods made by Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative companies meet federal nutrition guidelines, the study has suggested that the companies choose to market less-nutritional products to children a great deal more heavily. Clearly, the self-regulatory effort has thus far been ineffective.

As of December 31, 2013 the Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative has proposed new, uniform nutrition criteria for member companies. This would replace the varying nutrition standards which are set by each company at this time. The new study has a goal of serving as a benchmark in order to determine if the new Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative nutrition criteria will improve the content of products which are marketed to children.

A healthy diet is essential to help children grow and learn, writes Medline Plus of the National Institutes of Health. It is also important for children to have nutritious diets in order to help prevent obesity and weight-related diseases, such as diabetes. In order to give your child a nutritious diet, it is suggested to:

1: Make half of what is on your child's plate fruits and vegetables

2: Choose healthy sources of protein, such as lean meat, nuts, and eggs

3: Serve whole-grain breads and cereals because they are high in fiber. Reduce refined grains.

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4: Broil, grill, or steam foods instead of frying them

5: Limit fast food and junk food

6: Offer water or milk instead of sugary fruit drinks and sodas

Childhood obesity is no laughing matter. Childhood obesity has more than doubled in kids and tripled in adolescents during the past 30 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Betweeen 1980 and 2010 the percentage of children between the ages of 6-11 in the United States who were obese increased from 7 percent to nearly 18 percent. In 2010, greater than one third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. The problem of childhood obesity is being fueled by fast food TV ads, reports EmaxHealth reporter Dominika Osmols, Psy.D.

There are both immediate and long-term effects on health and well-being of childhood obesity.

Immediate health effects from obesity are reported by the CDC to include:

1: Obese youth are more likely to have risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

2: Obese adolescents are more likely to have prediabetes, which is a condition in which blood glucose levels indicate a high risk for development of diabetes.

3: Greater risk for bone and joint problems

4: Increased risk for sleep apnea

5: Increased risk of social and psychological problems such as stigmatization and poor self-esteem.

Long-term health effects from obesity are reported by the CDC to include:

1: Kids and adolescents who are obese are likely to be obese as adults

2: Increased risk for heart disease

3: Increased risk for type 2 diabetes

4: Increased risk for stroke

5: Increased risk for several types of cancer

Television advertisements promote foods that lead to chronic illness, writes EmaxHealth reporter Kathleen Blanchard, RN.

I have witnessed the growing trend of childhood obesity. More and more kids than ever before appear to be addicted to junk food. The combination of increased exposure to junk food on TV advertisements and online is helping to create an epidemic out of this problem. Children must be encouraged to spend less time just watching TV and socializing and playing games online, and more time outside in the fresh air getting more exercise. And parents and teachers should work hard to counter misinformation about the nutritional value of junk food seen in advertisements, while initiatives continue to make advertising of food and beverages more responsible.