The Impact of Food Advertising on Your Kids

Kids food advertisingIn the last 30 years, obesity rates for children ages 2 to 5 have nearly tripled, and the rate has quadrupled for the 6-11 age group.  Obesity in childhood increases the risk for continuing that trend into adulthood and with it comes a wide range of medical problems including cardiovascular disease and an increased risk for certain types of cancer.  Just a couple decades ago, type 2 diabetes was considered to be a disease only found in adults, but it is now being diagnosed in teenagers.  This is a frightening trend.

While parents ultimately make the food decisions, sometimes it’s just easier to give in to the screaming child in the grocery store just to be rewarded with a few minutes of silence.  And in all likelihood, the food that they are pleading for is something high in sugar, fat, salt, calories, or any combination of those things. This likely happens even if 99% of the food they eat at home is healthy.  They still ask for the Oreos, ice cream, or SpongeBob poptarts.

So what drives kids to ask for junk foods?  The American Psychological Association has completed a number of reports on the effects of food advertising on children and made a number of important conclusions.  First of all, children between the ages of 8 and 18 spend an average of 44.5 hours per week consuming media in the form of television, video games, and computers.  This is the most time consuming activity that kids engage in other than sleep.  While consuming this media, kids see a large number of food and beverage ads, and the majority of those ads are for non-nutritious food.  Kids have a seemingly endless ability to absorb and recall information from these ads, even after only one viewing.  The impact of the advertising is cumulative too, leading to increased drive for these types of food.  Furthermore, younger children have a difficult time understanding the persuasive nature of advertising in ways that adults can, making advertising to children blatantly exploitative.  It is not surprising then that increased advertising of non-nutritious foods has been correlated with the increases in childhood obesity.

So how do we avoid all of this?  Make sure that you are reinforcing healthy eating habits.  You can be a positive form of food advertising by putting fruits and vegetables in front of them on a regular basis.  It’s okay to have a treat every now and then, but junk food should never be a regular part of the diet.  Additionally, minimizing the amount of media exposure can help reduce a child’s urge to beg for non-nutritious food.  Have your children go outside and play for awhile or encourage them to read a book.  It only takes a few small steps to have healthier children.

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