Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Childhood Obesity and Food Adverts

Major Food Companies Promote Childhood Obesity
Thomas Riggins

Any democratic government has a responsibility to protect the health and well being of its citizens and especially to prevent private interests from exploiting children for private gain or any other reason. This may look like common sense, but governments around the world, including the US government, have been far too lax in allowing food companies to manufacture, advertise, and sell foods for children that they know is unhealthy and will lead to serious health consequences in the future.

According to ScienceDaily (June 30,2011) scientists at the University of Liverpool in the UK have shown that children watching TV commercials promoting unhealthy foods (foods with too much fat,salt and sugar) develop a desire to eat these kinds of food in preference to nutritionally healthy alternatives ("TV Food Advertising Increases Children's Preference for Unhealthy Foods, Study Finds").

The study was conducted on children 6 to 13 years old who were shown a cartoon after watching 5 minutes of toy commercials or 5 minutes of commercials of unhealthy snack foods. The children were then allowed to choose what kind of foods they wanted from lists of healthy and unhealthy foods including famous brand names and non brand named foods. The children choose significantly more unhealthy foods to eat after the food commercials but not after the toy commercials.

Emma Boyland, one of the authors of the study was quoted as saying, "Obesity in young children is now a major health concern around the world. Our studies highlight that there are global connections between advertising, food preferences and consumption. This is a beyond-brand effect, increasing children's selections of all unhealthy foods -- not just those shown in the adverts."

If these conclusions hold up it means that governments should ban all such advertising aimed at children and indeed ban the the production and sale of unhealthy foods entirely. The purpose of food is to provide healthy nutrition to the food consumers, not profits to capitalists. It is simply not rational, nor moral, to allow private companies to enrich themselves by making millions of young children around the world unhealthy and obese.

The suggestions from Ms. Boyland are not as strong as those I suggest. She says that limiting TV watching time, for example, might be one solution since only children who watched more than 21 hours of television seem to have been negatively affected by the food commercials. However reports show that US teens spend about 20 hours a week in screen time (60%) but about 30% of teens spent 40 or so hours in screen time. I'm sure different countries will have different breakdowns

In any case, Boyland concludes by saying, "This study demonstrates that children are far more likely to eat unhealthy foods if they watch a lot of television. This suggests that it would be beneficial to reduce the amount of television that children watch. These findings also have implications for the regulation of television food advertising to children. A 9pm watershed should be introduced so that children are not exposed to high fat, high sugar and high salt food advertising during popular family viewing."

Well, that would be a start, but a people's government would simply ban all such fake food products in the first place.

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