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Effect that advertising has on kids' eating habits

Effect that advertising has on kids’ eating habits

Are TV and movies morphing into junk-food commercials?

Kids’ TV “character” flaws

I’ve written before about the effect that advertising has on kids’ eating habits. In a Daily Dose article back on August 29th of last year, I told you about the incredible statistic that the average child sees 20,000 TV ads per year, many of them for junk foods or fast food restaurants. I even cited a 1991 study, which revealed that a typical four-hour stretch of Saturday morning cartoons contains around 200 junk food ads!

It’s doubly bad because TV makes children inactive while programming them to desire a diet high in refined sugars, starches, and carbohydrates.

But this issue is finally beginning to get some play in the mainstream media. I just hope it isn’t too late to begin stemming the tide of juvenile obesity, which now affects three times more kids than it did just 40 years ago

According to an Associated Press article from the end of 2005, a report released by The Institute of Medicine states that television advertising is a powerful influence over how kids eat – especially those under age 12. Though no studies have demonstrated a direct cause-and-effect relationship between junk food ads on TV and rising childhood obesity, it doesn’t require a government grant spent by pointy-heads in lab coats to put two and two together.

Case in point: The number of new food products marketed toward kids has increased from 52 in 1994 to nearly 500 in 2004. And overwhelmingly, these foods are what anyone with half a brain would consider “junk foods.”

But the problem is that kids no longer receive their brainwashing from just the ads alone. Product placement in kids’ TV shows has surpassed advertising in its ability to pitch unhealthy foodstuffs to our children. What’s “product placement?” It’s when a character in a show is written with an affinity for a certain kind of food – like E.T. and his Reese’s Pieces back in 1982 (one of the first successful product placement campaigns aimed at kids, by the way)

Today, only about 25% of junk food makers’ marketing dollars are spent on ads – the rest is spent making sure TV characters like SpongeBob or Shrek shovel in as much as the stuff as possible while our kids are glued to the tube.

OK, so you see the problem – kids are bombarded with programming that’s the equivalent of one continuous junk-food commercial. Now, what to do about it
According to the AP piece, the Institute of Medicine is calling for the food and entertainment industries to collaborate to promote only “healthy” foods on TV shows and in the ads that accompany them. Clearly, they’re living in a fantasyland not unlike those pictured on many Saturday morning shows

But ironically, at least part of the solution may come from TV and movie actors and writers themselves. According to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer article from last November, Hollywood’s Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America are pressing for a “code of conduct” regarding product placements in movies and TV programming. Among other measures, they propose a disclosure statement at the beginning of movies and TV programs to alert viewers to all product integration deals in what they’re about to watch.

Pretty stand-up of them, right?

Yes and no. Their motivation isn’t good-heartedness, but greed. According to the article, these unions are sick and tired of acting as unpaid pitchmen. They want their cut of the billions in marketing loot being sprayed around by junk food makers and other advertisers, or they’re not going to write any more scripts revolving around Crack-a-Cola or play any more characters addicted to Starclucks Coffee or whatever

v They’ve even threatened to take their “case” before federal regulators if studios don’t cut them in on this river of cash.

I hope the studios prove just as greedy and play hardball with these unions – the net result of a war between them all would likely be a halt in junk food product placements in kid-oriented TV or movies at least temporarily.

And that would be a good thing, believe me.

Never “advertising” anything but the truth,

William Campbell Douglass II, MD

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