Stephen Pont, a Texas pediatrician struggled with his weight as a child.
“What I remember most is the brand Del Monte, and they had a line of products called Del Monte Lite, so my friends would sometimes tease me by calling me Del Ponte heavy.”Pont said.
Like all kids, Pont never questioned the sugary cereals advertised during his Saturday morning cartoons, but as the chairman on obesity at the American academy of pediatrics, Pont is now part of an effort to limit these kinds of adverts.
In December 2005, the Institute of Medicine released a book-length study that food advertising aimed at children directly contributed to obesity rates among children and teens tripling since the 1980s.
Do food adverts really make a difference?
Our levels of childhood obesity are unprecedented in human history because we’re producing unhealthy foods and promoting them. As long as we continue to do that, we can’t solve the problem of childhood obesity.
Two groups of elementary school age children were shown the same cartoons, with different commercials. One group was shown food adverts while another was shown ads that were not related to food . While watching the cartoons, the children were given the same type and amount of snacks. The group that watched the cartoons with the food commercials ate 45% more snacks than the group that watched the same cartoon with non food related commercials .
Food advertising normalizes unhealthy foods in the minds of children. Hedonic hunger, or the urge to eat is activated when watching food commercials because of the sensory connections these adverts make with food, to make it more appetizing such as “ice cold” . Recognize that this is the urge to eat, not necessarily real hunger. This establishes patterns which become hard to break. For example American kids eat sugary cereals for breakfast because the social environment makes it normal for children to be stuffed with sugar first thing in the morning.
Food advertising in an obesity epidemic works. These adverts associate positive images with unhealthy foods making children believe they are harmless when consumed regularly. Our kids are even more confused when food companies make unhealthy food options seem healthier.
Recipe tinkering has created several “new” low fat, low sugar, fat free alternatives that many assume are healthier but really aren’t.
The solutions to controlling childhood obesity are not easy to identify though some seem like common sense. Exercise for example seems an obvious solution to weight problems but it has been found that lack of exercise alone does not contribute to obesity. Exercise is essential to good health, but sedentary children who partake in activities that do not involve food advertising such as computer games rather than television watching have lower BMI rates than their counterparts.
Conversely, if you are exercising everyday but stuffing yourself with junk food, physical activity becomes moot. Obesity has roots beyond television and advertising but its time the food industry reverses the predominance of food advertising especially during children’s programs.
What’s your take on the role of food advertising in childhood obesity?
First published at national.deseretnews.com