Free Literature Review On Couch Potatoes Arise: The Link Between Child Obesity And Food Ads
Advertising is a form of mass communication that deals with promoting a product, services or perhaps a person to the public. For many decades, companies have taken a great advantage of the mainstream media such as the print, television and the internet to promote their goods the masses. Since its invention, the television became one of the most powerful mediums of communication. It has the ability to affect, influence, and change a person’s opinion through the advertisements, which in return uses prominent personalities, humorous taglines, and funny cartoons. However, there is an on-going debate amongst the experts regarding the food advertisements’ influence in children’s’ diet. Maher et al., (2006, p. 41) claimed that food advertising plays a major role in introducing “young consumers” to different kinds of products which in turn “builds brand familiarity.” Advertisers build brand familiarity by using colorful and funny cartoon characters and humorous sing-song taglines so that the products they are endorsing will be remembered by the kids (Kashif et al., 2012, p. 246). According to Piaget, unlike adults and teens, children below the age of eight are more susceptible to be influenced by advertisements, because they have a limited ability to discern useful information and advertisement fads (quoted from Maher et al., 2006, p. 49). Amidst their humorous and entertaining rants, experts believe that advertisements are one of the main drivers in promoting obesity in children. A follow-up argument based from the critics’ research suggested that obesity is prevalent in children due to the fact that food advertisements aired in kid-friendly channels contains exceeding servings of fats, sodium, and sugars which is dangerous to their young bodies (Buijzen et al., 2008; p. 231). Since then, food advertisements gained a notorious reputation amongst food nutritionists and health experts. The alarming increase of clinically obese children led the WHO to conclude the food advertisements aired in children’s channels as one the main catalyst, leading to childhood obesity (Maher et al., 2006, p. 41). Based from the report issued by the World Health Organization in 2004, there was an approximate of 22 million children below five years old who were suffering from obesity (quoted from Maher et al., 2006, p. 41). Therefore, experts in children nutrition further declared ‘obesity’ as a ‘national epidemic’ way back in 2001, followed by the health report published by the World Health Organization which calls the public’s attention to the ‘obesity issue’ (Maher et al., 2006, p. 41). In Pakistan, a study conducted by Kashif et al., (2012) and his team of professionals revealed that children were innocent enough and unsuspecting which makes them an easy prey for the constant manipulation of advertisers and food manufacturers. At a tender age, they were constantly exposed to television for long hours per week. Advertisements condition the children’s minds through the use of colorful packaging, funny cartoon characters and witty advertisement songs. Continuous exposure on these advertisements teach children to associate a certain character to a product; or in some cases, children often remember witty, repetitive chants in commercials and learn to associate them in their favorite food brands. Which Kashif et al., (2012; p 248) posited as true enough when he stated that: “Children notice music, jingles, food item color and overall packaging of the brands.” In order become an instant hit, a manufacturer of gummy worms such as Trolli might tailor their packaging into a child-friendly one by putting animated characters such as dinosaurs, animals depicted in funny poses whilst eating their product. In the television, an advertisement for kids must be lively, humorous, and witty. It is a common technique for advertisers to make children as their lead stars promoting their products; because children can relate to other children of their age. Compared to adults and teens, Kashif also revealed that children by nature are blunt commentators. If they do not like an advertisement, they would not beat-around-the-bush; instead they will tell directly the things they did not like about the advertisement. For advertisers and food manufacturers, this simple tidbit of information is crucial enough which can either make or break their product. What Kashif suggests is that, children’s opinion serves as a ‘marketing guideline’ for advertisers who wanted to promote their client’s products on television. Furthermore, another research conducted by Samson (2005) explores the main objectives on why children were more influenced by aggressive food marketing advertisements. He describes the existence of ‘kid-power’ in several British households as a phenomenon brought by the emergence of ‘compressed cultures.’ In order to cope up with higher demands of city-living, Samson commented that parents’ have to work hard. In some families, both parents work during weekdays including Saturdays. As a result, younger members of the family were often left alone in the house or in care with other people (e.g. relative, family friend). To compensate for this, parents indulge their children’s whims through shopping and buying the product they like.
“Kid-power, mum’s desire for convenience led to an increase of food and drink products Food and drink manufacturers were quick to realize that mothers’ were looking for convenience foods that their children would enjoy and contain goodness (Samson, 2005, p. 13).
Although the above reason might be acceptable for consoling children, experts argue that relying on too much processed foods leads to obese children. The prime target of junk food advertisement is the younger audiences. Maher et al., (2006) acknowledges the ballooning authority exerted by American children over food purchases. It was reported that in 2001, younger children within the age bracket of four and twelve “controlled $35-41 billion in terms of purchases whilst they influenced family purchases by as much as $260-290 billion” (Maher et al., 2006, p. 43). Furthermore, this hefty amount did not surprised many researchers because children were always exposed in TV ads up to the point that they were so engrossed; according to Cormiteau, they [children] learn to “develop and merge consumerism and self-image”(quoted from Maher et al., 2006, p. 43). For experts, obesity is a very serious medical condition and if left untreated, it can endanger the lives of the children. Scientifically speaking, obesity is the excessive accumulation of body fat, as a result of overeating foods rich in protein, sodium, and sugar. There must be some truth behind the junk food advertisements and the case of being clinically obese. Television bombards children with graphic information about a specific product that caught their attention. However, Young countered that the nexus between junk food advertisements and cases of obese children is unidentified due to the lack of supporting data (quoted from Schmitt et al., 2007, p. 58). Samson (2005) further supported Young’s proposition as he noted that unlike in the bygone times, children in this era lacked exercise. Due to technological innovations, children prefer to stay and watch their favorite cartoon characters whilst sitting/reclining on the couch and eating potato chips. Hence, the term ‘couch-potato’ is thereby linked to fat youngsters. It is an undeniable truth that a product’s success is determined by its taste. For youngsters, taste is necessary for them to continue patronizing their food choice. Maher testified that food companies have an ability to produce healthy goodies; however, it is a risky situation on their end. Their businesses only prosper through consumers’ continuous patronage on their products. Nevertheless, people, and most importantly their children, will not consume snacks which are not tasty to them (Maher et al., 2006). And this action will be the same to the rest of the people around the world. Additionally, Dixon et al., (2007) also pointed out that junk food commercials are more popular with the children not only with its funny images, but also with its tastes. In her research, what Dixon and her team of professionals found out are the attitudes of children against the healthy food commercials. She added that: “Some evidence that when healthy food ads were aired with junk food ads, children showed more negative attitudes toward vegetables, whereas no such change was evident when the same number of healthy foods was aired without junk food advertisements” (Dixon et al., 2007, p. 1320). Ad hoc, to combat the emerging obesity trend, networks should air healthy food commercials with kid-friendly information as a method of teaching them valuable information as well as the importance of eating healthy and living healthy. This method might seem to please food Nazis; however, not all majority of the population will accept this because that the effect of food marketing is more evident in lower –income households compared to the elite and middle class-families (Zimmerman and Shimoga, 2014, p. 8). Compared to the elites and middle classes, lower-income families often resort to buying food which takes a short time to prepare, but tasty at the same time. Meanwhile, children also belonging to the low-income household bracket were equally sensitive to food advertisements (Buijzen et al., 2008, p. 236-237). Moving forward, compared to the print media and the internet, television is probably the most highly exploited forms of mass communication due to the fact that tons of advertisements were being aired by television channels (Tian & Pasadeos, 2012). Especially in kiddie-networks such as Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network, food manufacturers pay a high-prize to the TV stations just for a thirty or fifteen seconds airing of their commercials. Thus, it is a necessity that an advertisement should employ catchy and witty lines to catch the younger audiences. Another study spearheaded by Halford et al., (2004) indicates that obese and overweight children tend to consume more processed foods compared to the children from the normal weight group. Although there was no direct evidence present to prove the link between obesity and food advertisements, Halford et al., (2004) claimed that obese and overweight children easily recognized the junk food commercials, unlike the other children with normal weight. However, King & Hill (2008, p. 196) offered an explanation that summarizes Halford’s claim.
“Recall was significantly higher for less healthy foods, even when estimated prior exposure to advertisements was accounted for. This finding is of interest given that memory for foods is likely to influence children’s food preferences and future requests, although it is some distance from showing a direct influence on intake or food choice.”
On a closer look, the debate regarding the link between obesity and food commercials is still disputed as Young had pointed out, the evidence is quite ambiguous. Moreover, obese cases in children exist because of the lack of interest in doing physical activities which may help in burning the excess fats. Based from the 2005 report issued by the Institute of Medicine, numerous causes were identified as catalyst for obesity cases amongst children. One of them is the parents’ overprotectiveness; which is also one of the main reasons children stay indoors and spend their day watching televised programs. Second is the continuous patronage for processed food. As Samson (2005) noted, this was a result primarily of ‘compressed cultures,’ that leaves parents’ a very little time to prepare their children’s meals. Furthermore, since both of the parents work in order to meet the family’s increasing demands, more and more mothers revert to buying ready-to-cook foods which are very cheap, tasty, and with nutritional value. As a conclusion, there was no concrete evidence that can link childhood obesity as a result of viewing commercials which endorse highly-processed products. Buying is a consumer’s choice and one of their rights. However, in terms of discerning which type of products is best for the family, it is a necessity for parents, and schools to create an action plan to deal with the obesity issue in children. For parents, they should spend quality time with their children or spend an amiable amount of hours to make their breakfast and lunches healthy. Schools must take time educating their students about the perils of consuming large quantities of processed foods by developing colorful visual aids to deliver information similar to the commercials on television.
Buijzen, M., Schuurman, J., & Bomhof, E. (2008). Associations between children’s television advertising exposure and their food consumption patterns: A household diary–survey study. Appetite, 50, (2-3), 231-239. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666307003273
Dixon, H., Scully, M., Wakefield, M., White, V., & Crawford, D. ( 2007). The effects of television advertisements for junk food versus nutritious food on children’s food attitudes and preferences. Social Science & Medicine, 65, 1311-1323. http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2007.05.011
Halford, J., Gillespie, J., Brown, V., Pontin, E., & Dovey, T. (2004). Effect of television advertisements for foods on food consumption in children. Appetite, 42, 221-225. http://dx.doi.org/ doi:10.1016/j.appet.2003.11.006.
Kashif, M., Altaf, U., Ali, S., Asif, U., Ayub, H.M., Abeer, W., & De Run, E.C. (2012). Pakistani Childrens’ Views of TV Advertising. Trziste, 24, 245-261. https://ideas.repec.org/a/zag/market/v24y2012i2p245-261.html
King, L., & Hill, A. (2008). Magazine adverts for healthy and less healthy foods: Effects on recall but not hunger or food choice by pre-adolescent children. Appetite, 51, 194-197. http://dx.doi.org/ doi:10.1016/j.appet.2008.02.016.
Maher, J.K., Lord, J.B., Hughner, R.S., & Childs, N. (2006). Food advertising on children’s television. Young Consumers, 3, 41-52. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17473610610717964
Samson, N. (2005). Marketing food and drink to children responsibly. Young Consumers, 3, 13-18. http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17473610510701250
Schmitt, N., Wagner, N., & Kirch, W. (2007). Consumers’ freedom of choice—advertising aimed at children, product placement, and food labeling. Journal of Public Health, 15, 57-62. http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1007/s10389-006-0080-2
Tian, S., & Pasadeos, Y. (2012). Chinese Consumers’ Skepticism toward Advertising. China Media Research, 8, (1), 64-75. http://www.chinamediaresearch.net
Zimmerman, F., & Shimoga, S. (2014). The effects of food advertising and cognitive load on food choices. BMC Public Health, 14, 1-10. http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-342
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