Kids in the US are fat and getting fatter. Many have written about how obesity rates are high and how so many children have per-diabetes. We know that this is a problem, but we have not found a suitable solution yet. We try to encourage kids to exercise (a good idea, but unlikely to solve the problem), some parents buy gluten free or follow other fad diets. The real problem is that kids eat too much junk.
Kids don’t eat junk in a vacuum of course. Kids pick up bad eating habits from family and some kids live in food deserts. But one factor is that that makes the problem worse is that food processing corporations engineer food to be irresistible and then market these addictive food-like products to minors. This is not too different from the tobacco industry increasing nicotine content in cigarettes then trying to get kids addicted before they are old enough to know better. Tobacco advertising to minors has been banned, its time to do something similar with food.
Here is an ad that is specifically targeted to children.
The implicit promise of this cereal is that it will make you feel magical, there will be more rainbows and you will interact with nonhuman bipeds in green clothing. Children under 6 cannot understand the difference between regular programing and advertising.
This advertising is effective; how many times have you seen a child beg their parent for a certain type of cereal at the grocery store?
Many food products for kids have given up all pretenses that they are good for children. Chocolate breakfast cereals, cookie breakfast cereals and countless other products do not pretend to be healthy. Fast food meals use toys, not the quality of the meal to appeal to young. Undeveloped brains, are more open to manipulation and external influence.
Raising children is a monumental challenge. Parents are trying to teach their kdis everything that the need to be successful in life and not be jerks. Teaching kids to eat healthy (when the parents might not be in the habit of eating healthy) is another difficult task, made more difficult by the fact the the kids spend hours every week consuming advertising for junk food. The task of teaching kids to eat healthy needs to be made easier, not harder.
Banning food advertising could leave the door open for parents to have more influence on what their children want to eat. Rather than children believing that sugar cereal is the only thing to eat for breakfast, parents could give their kids fruit or whole wheat pancakes or kimchi (if you tell them it’s normal, they might believe you). Even if parents do not take a more active role after food advertising is banned, less corporate influence on children might be a very good thing.
Some of you might wonder, why don’t we just ban unhealthy food? The problem with that is calling a food healthy is often a marketing ploy. Potato chips sometimes are marketed as “healthy”. Breakfast cereals packed with sugar boast about “vitamins and minerals”, giving the impression that the foods are health foods, when in fact they are not. On top of that, nutrition science is complicated and often there are contradictory studies on what is healthy. One might argue that we need to have kids eat more bee, and others might counter that kids need to eat less beef. One things that nearly every nutritionist I have read agrees on is that we all need a bunch of fruits and vegetables. For this reason the advertising ban should be for all food targeted towards minors.
Sugar will still taste good to children of course so this will not solve the problem entirely. I am under no disillusions that all kids will fervently demand that they are fed only kale and quinoa, but closing the door to food ads to minors might open the door, if but a crack, to healthier foods. It should lower the demand for some of the worst food products, and leave more room for kids to eat healthier foods. Parents should also benefit by having young children pester them for junk food less.
Some of you, I am sure, are concerned that an advertising ban would eliminate funding for children’s television programs. To make sure that this is not a problem, food companies would be allowed to have 20 second advertisements promoting fruits and veggies with a short “brought to you by . . .” segment to improve their brand recognition. Toys and other products could still be advertised.
This post was brought to you by the council to promote carrot consumption.