From jingles for sugar-loaded cereals to flashy fast food advertisements, unhealthy food is marketed to our children at an alarming rate. With American children watching an average of 44.5 hours of television a week, they are exposed to upwards of 30,155 television advertisements a year, of which 50 percent is for candy, snacks, sugary cereals and fast food.
Our children are being bombarded with these messages at a time when obesity rates are skyrocketing across the country. One out of three American kids is overweight or obese and Colorado’s youngsters certainly aren’t immune to this growing health epidemic. In fact, the most recent data indicate that one quarter of our children are overweight or obese. Further, Colorado has the second- fastest growing childhood obesity rate in the country, recently dropping from third leanest to 23rd in the country over a matter of a few years.
The Impact of Junk Food Marketing
While a number of factors contribute to obesity and children's poor diets, food marketing plays a key role. A 2009 study conducted by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity demonstrated that children who were exposed to television food advertising consumed an average of 45 percent more snacks than their counterparts who viewed advertising for other products. Another study found that children who are already overweight are even more susceptible to junk food advertisements and will increase consumption by 134 percent.
As an organization dedicated to preventing and reducing obesity in Colorado by promoting healthy eating and active living, LiveWell Colorado is concerned about the impact of junk food marketing on our children. And we’re not alone. Childhood obesity has become parents’ number one health concern – surpassing smoking and drug abuse, according to the National Poll on Children’s Health by C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. And many parents believe junk food marketing to children is a large part of the childhood obesity problem.
While parents certainly have a role in what their children are watching, it is undeniable that our children are strongly influenced by marketing messages and are not always under our watchful eye. In 2006, the food industry spent $1.6 billion on advertisements promoting foods high in calories and low in nutrition to our children. A growing portion of this advertising targets children in venues where their parents do not have as much oversight: online, in social network environments and via mobile devices.
Combatting These Messages
Last April, the Interagency Working Group on Foods Marketed to Children proposed a set of preliminary guidelines for food marketing to children. These voluntary, science-based guidelines were strongly supported by public health and advocacy organizations, researchers, and healthcare providers across the country. However, Congress recently decided that the IWG must conduct a cost-benefit analysis before releasing the final food marketing report and recommendations.
Although we are disappointed that this additional work is being required for voluntary guidelines and is further delaying implementation, we are hopeful that the final food marketing guidelines will be issued in the very near future. LiveWell Colorado recently joined the Food Marketing Workgroup – composed of dozens of organizations committed to promoting the health of our children – in urging the President to ensure the analysis is conducted as soon as possible and guidelines are issued in early 2012.
How You Can Help
We know that public outreach has the power to positively impact the marketing practices of American food companies. There are many ways that you can get involved and make a difference. LiveWell Colorado urges you to do the following:
- Ask restaurants and companies to opt-in to the IWG’s recommended voluntary food guidelines.
- Ask grocers for a “candy-free check out aisle."
- Ask retailers to arrange cereal boxes with the nutrition labels facing out rather than the cartoon character-laden fronts.
- Post messages on food marketers’ social media sites asking them to make the changes you wish to see.
- Talk with your kids about the food marketing they see and help them make choices based on what's healthy and tasty rather than simply following what their favorite cartoon character or TV star is promoting.
Additionally, as a parent, you can set a good example for your children with your own healthy eating habits and serve fresh, healthy family meals. If you’re looking for more ideas of how you can take charge of your family’s health, visit our website www.livewellcolorado.org.
Together, we can ensure a sweet, healthy future for our children.