Childhood obesity has become a cause of concern since life expectancy has drastically reduced over the decades. There are several studies taken up on this issue and several researchers have pointed out that food advertising to which children are exposed every day is a major cause. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in the past three decades, there has been a 300 percent increase in the rate of children who are either overweight or obese in the United States (Lempert 2005).
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Advertising cannot be linked directly to childhood obesity, however, researchers in this field find that advertisements targeted to children through TV contribute to children’s choices about foods, beverages, and are responsible for their sedentary lifestyle. According to the statistics published by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), it is found that annual sales of foods and beverages to young consumers exceeded $27 billion in 2002. They also pointed out that food and beverage advertisers together spend to a tune of $10 billion to $12 billion annually to reach children and youth (Institute of Medicine 2004; McGinnis et al. 2006).
A study conducted by a team of researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and the Children’s Hospital in Boston linked the hours spend watching TV to the quality of food consumed by children. More specifically this research pointed out that children who spend more time watching TV were more likely to eat more of the calorie-dense, low nutrient foods (junk food) advertised on television.
Therefore it is clear that junk food ads play a major role in the increasing trend of childhood obesity in the U.S. They concluded that each additional hour of television viewing was independently linked with increased consumption of foods commonly advertised on television (Harvard School of Public Health 2006). A review study by Caroli et al. (2004) showed that television watching replaces more vigorous activities such as sports. They also found that the usual portrayal of food and obesity in television has many documented negative consequences on food habits and patterns, particularly among children.
Researchers have suggested that restrictions or bans on the use of cartoon characters, celebrity endorsements, health claims on food packages, stealth marketing, and marketing in schools, along with federal actions that promote media literacy, better school meals, and consumption of fruits and vegetables could go a long way to curb the problem of childhood obesity (Nestle 2006). Television could be used as a tool to spread correct information on good nutrition and obesity prevention. A combined effort from parents, children, teachers, and health care providers can bring down the skyrocketing statistics of childhood obesity.
Caroli M, Argentieri L, Cardone M, Masi A. “Role of television in childhood obesity prevention” Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2004, 28 Suppl 3:S104-108.
Harvard School of Public Health, “Ads for Unhealthy Foods May Explain Link between Television Viewing and Overweight in Children”, 2006. Web.
Institute of Medicine (IOM) “Advertising, Marketing and the Media: Improving Messages” Fact Sheet, 2004. Web.
Lempert, Ted, “Childhood obesity fueled by marketing tactics” The San Francisco Chronicle, 2005, page B – 9.
McGinnis JM, Gootman JA, Kraak VI, eds. “Food marketing to children and youth: threat or opportunity?” Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2006.
Nestle, Marion. “Food Marketing and Childhood Obesity-A Matter of Policy” N Engl J Med, Vol. 354 No 24; 2006:2527-2529.