According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has doubled in the past three decades, while in the case of adolescents, it has quadrupled. In 2012 it was reported that one third of children and adolescents were obese in the U.S.
Television plays an important role in determining our children’s eating habits. Not long ago, a study revealed that children who watch TV more than two hours a day are more likely to be obese in the future. It is not hard to understand why TV might be harmful. It’s the advertisements for sugary cereals, crispy biscuits and crackers, salty chips and creamy chocolate that have a major influence on kids’ choices when it comes to food, because of the mouth-watering pictures and texts that they display. When kids get their mind set on unhealthy food, they are just a stone’s throw away from becoming overweight.
Therefore, nine years ago, at the end on 2006, a collaboration called Children’s Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative was initiated by food industry companies, and it went into effect three years later. Through this initiative, they basically promised to cut back on advertising unhealthy food to children younger than 12. The companies that made the pledge included huge brands such as The Coca-Cola, McDonald’s and Kraft Foods.
However, in spite of their efforts, it seems that the companies have got the wrong end of the stick. According to a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine this week, the food advertised on TV for kids is far from being healthier. Researchers concluded that even if the companies have theoretically complied with their pledges, they have failed to address the real problem – that is – help children eat healthier. Researchers at the University of Arizona analyzed the results of the initiative and revealed that some of the targets were met. For example, they “consistently complied with all commitments regarding nutritional guidelines for foods advertised to children, ” said lead study author Dale Kunkel, PhD, a professor emeritus of communications at the University of Arizona. Some companies promised not to purchase advertising time for children under six years old or do any marketing in schools or kindergartens. While these commitments were fulfilled, the results of the study still revealed that about 80 percent of foods advertised were unhealthy.
While from the point of view of companies who made the commitment, a lot of progress has been made so far because their targets were reached, professor Dale Kunel mentioned that they “have barely moved the needle in terms of shifting food advertising to children to genuinely healthy products.”
The authors of the study employed a food-grading system to assess the food advertised on TV. They used three markers for different types of food, according to their characteristics: Go (you can eat it every day), Slow (only eat it a few times a week) and Whoa (only eat it occasionally).
After recording 103 shows, with 354 food ads for children under 12 on five networks and two channels, starting from February to April 2013, the researchers found that 75 percent of the ads would promote foods that belonged to the “Whoa” category. Thus, even if they promoted products that contained smaller amounts of sugar and salt, or whose sizes had been reduced, they were far from being nutritious for the little ones.
The study met harsh criticism from the director of Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative, Elaine Kolish. In a statement to The Salt, she wrote that the grading system is limited and flawed. “Before our program started, some cereals had as much as 15 grams of sugar per serving. To be advertised to children, they now can have no more than 10 grams of sugar, and many have even less. At the same time, their whole grain content has gone up,” she added.
However, the authors of the study still insist that the program does not encourage children to take into account nutritional recommendations that encourage them to eat as much fruit and as many vegetables as possible.
Experts say these findings are hardly surprising, as the companies’ main target is to sell and they wouldn’t do anything that could pose a threat to their profit.
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