Child obesity rates have more than tripled since the 1970s (The State of Obesity). The rate of obesity has more than doubled for preschool children and tripled for older children” and the factors that have been affecting it are even more apparent in society today (Institute of Medicine). Not only do factors of advertising play into account of this increase, but also the limited regulations of the inclusion of heavily refined ingredients, sugars, and flavorings in foods. Television advertisements are the main source of influence (Calvert). But with advanced technology, the outlets for advertising exposure is greater than ever before. Through radios, billboards, game sponsors, social media, the children fall as victims to the advertisements hidden behind toys, characters, and colorful foods they crave to eat. To combat this, there is only limited regulation in the advertisements of low nutrient, calorie-dense foods, causing the risk of diabetes, hypertension, and atherosclerosis to be elevated (Journal of Nutrition). Without change, life expectancies for the average American could decline by 5 years (Olshanksy et al).
The Center for Science in the Public interest recommends restriction of marketing of high-calorie, low-nutrition foods to children. Kaiser Family Foundation reviewed 40 studies of children's use of media and concluded that it appears likely that the the main effect of media on childhood obesity is children's over exposure to billions of dollars' worth of food advertising and cross-promotional marketing (FTC).
Unfortunately, these influences not only increase the risks of diseases at a young age but also sets the base of future food choices and knowledge. Children pose as vulnerable targets because of their lack of knowledge in the distinction between heavy marketing and factual knowledge (WHO). Without proper regulation in the foods advertised or the ways they promote their products to young children, the opportunities and innovations of new advertising techniques will continue to arise. In the past, there have been initiatives taken to promote healthy eating towards children, such as MyPyramid, focusing on preventing future chronic diseases, or regulations on the food offered in schools, setting the standards of increasing the options for fruit, non-fat milk, vegetable snacks. However, the effects of marketing outside of the environments of regulation, beyond parental control, and social influences, lies in food marketing and its outputs involving media and nutrition regulation.
This research paper aims to discuss policy options in preventing the effects of heavy marketing to youth that contributes to increasing obesity rates. The purpose is to find the best solutions in regulating the exposure and impact advertisements have on children. Many people oppose the regulation, saying it violates First Amendment Rights and that the advertisements today do not differ from those in the past. However, it does not take into account of the various advertising outlets that have come up because of advances in online technology. To find the appropriate policy, it is necessary to identify what factors of advertising impacts children's choices and why it is causing a increase in rates of weight gain and obesity rates.
The primary research questions are as follows: (1) What types of advertisements are shown and why is it contributing to obesity? (2) Will regulating the amount of commercials help? (3) How do we regulate food marketing to children to reduce the rates of child obesity?
Advertisements on TV range from food, entertainment, meals, and snacks, specifically targeting certain groups on specific channels at specified times. Almost one-third of advertisement exposures on children's programs are for food.
As indicated in Figure 3 (Desrochers), the main foods advertised are high in calories, refined sugars, and bound to elicit addiction signals. Another study found that 75% of all advertisements they examined featured sugar-coated cereals, drinks, snacks, and salty fast foods who often used prizes of toys to promote their meals (Desrochers). Sugar triggers dopamine release, stimulating the pleasure center the way drugs do (WHO). Advertisers know this. Thus, they aim towards children who lack enough knowledge to understand the effects of bad diets. The first category that children's programming predominately focuses on is games, toys, and hobbies. Often times, promoting a sedentary lifestyle contributes to limited physical activity, adding onto the high sugar cereals, high sodium snacks, high fat dairy, and high caloric desserts and sweets advertised results in a bad equation of weight gain, cravings due to nutrient deficiencies, and large waves of fatigue. Diets high in saturated fat and artificial additives set up high chances for obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes. setting the basis of young people to crave the sugar that triggers dopamine release (Moore). In reality, the reasons behind the junk food cravings lies in the chemistry of the food itself (Moore). The addicting factor in the advertised foods give way to the succession of food marketing beyond verbal and visual convincing. The scientific evidence as well as the logical convenience of the advertised meals both contribute to the lack of development in the line between healthy, natural foods and taste-appealing snacks. If adults can hardly make time to prepare a meal outside the frozen foods and junk foods, it is easy for a child to give into the snack that is advertised in almost every channel.
The Figures below further emphasize how much funding is implemented on child advertising, ages 2-17, by fast food industries alone (Yale Rudd, Nielson). With convenience and price being major factors in food choice, advertisements simply add to the fuel of convenient purchases for food rather than intuitive purchases of consumer consumption.
Nonetheless, children will eventually solidify the habits of convenience and comforting taste into their futures. The ways of the Discourse corporation marketing uses to persuade a large group of people is strong enough to push through emotions and food selection, which further influences the later health and decisions of children. Because of the variety of “junk food” advertisements shown in the duration of children's programming and the low nutritional quality of them, it creates a platform of forming unhealthy habits. As seen, the results of this research clearly shows a correlation between the quality of food and the advertisements played.
The next topic discusses if the regulation of commercials shown will help lower the rates of obesity. The options include: (1) Implementing policies and tests to determine a commercial acceptable to FCC standards, (2) Taxing high caloric food and beverages, (3) Encouraging healthy diet education.
As for the first option, the issues of freedom of expression always raises controversy in that “the Constitution imposes no… restraint on government” regulation of “purely commercial advertising” (Valentine v. Chrestenson 1942). However, pure commercial advertising was never the case. The FTC is authorized to regulate advertisements that appear deceptive if it likely to mislead consumers, followed by a 3-part inquiry. The main point is in their determining of acceptable advertising; They recognize the special status and cognitive limitations of children in their consideration of misleading advertisements. The Central Hudson test is used most frequently in resolving issues of commercial speech. Under this test, there is a 4-part analysis analyzing if there are any attempts of restricting the truth to mislead viewers in achieving their desired policy. These tests all share the same underlying motive, the common interest in protecting minors. Though they have their 1st amendment rights, they do not have the “full capacity for individual choice which the 1st guarantees”. These policies are present and are implemented into commercial approvals but the food industry will constantly re-innovate and find new promotion techniques. Reliable data should be updated to significantly show each advertisement impact and its violation of public policy.
Considering the second option, if the regulation includes imposing taxes on high caloric food and beverages, it will depend on the manufacturers on how they will react to this action. Size of tax will be considered and how manufacturers can adapt to this change of attempting to distribute untaxed products will be taken into account. According Jacbson and Brownells study, consumers “tend to favor taxes when the revenues will be used to fund health education programs” (Moore). Thus, there must be more funding in health education programs, especially for children, to not only promote healthier lifestyle choices, but also lower the quantities of “bad” food being produced. Food production starts with the producers. Thus, if we put subsidies on healthier foods and places taxes on unhealthy, cheaply produced snacks, the funds saved will be put into health education reforms, slowly transforming the unhealthy lifestyle into one of awareness and moral consideration of youth's lack of knowledge.
Regarding the third option, the Federal Communication Commission centers around protecting young children from confusing program content in shows and commercials. Rules include making the transitions between advertisement and program content to be distinct, including the mentioning of the return of the show within the following minutes. Also, product promotion cannot be integrated into program content. Children's Advertising Review Unit also regulates connections between the government and marketing practices. (Calvert). However, it is acknowledged that even if policies are placed on food marketing to children, the exposure to those advertisements that intended for adult viewing can still be viewed. Also, regulations of media speech often receive negative connotation. If the policy of imposing taxes is not supported, the possibility of encouraging additional healthy food messages may be the strategy to combat the “good” of all fast food and highly processed snacks constantly advertised. Funds into research implements to find ways to motivate the youth to eat healthier and stand against the strong marketing that large corporations to take advantage of their innocence. To target the children correlates with connecting the desire of becoming independent with wanting to be freed from the pressure of food advertisers. Since 2002, advocating for healthier living habits and choices has been part of school education. By incorporating the common desires of children through their hopes rather than through the toys and celebrities that cereal brands commonly do, product promotion would remove the young social norm logic of describing ‘healthy' as disgusting but rather ‘healthy' as empowering (Desrochers). This approach focuses mainly on the education aspect of influencing how the children are interpreting the advertisements.
According to the research, it seems to appear that the policies that have been implemented have already improved since 1997(Institute of Medicine). The tests of commercial standards have taken place. However, its significance and process of approval is not significant enough to see a drastic change in the amount of fast food advertisements present. The combination of lightly taxing fast food companies and unhealthy snack producing companies to slowly transition into advertising healthier products and controlling the timing and way they are presenting them, along with stronger implementation of health education aiming at the desires of children of a certain age, can make a difference in reducing the influence from advertisement exposure.
Through careful examination, my research questions have been answered to provide more background in selection best policy options needed. Most commercials during children's programming, showed promotion of products high in sugar and low in nutrients. These commercials often have celebrities or character personas that promote the new products in order to gain the attention and credibility of their younger viewers. Regulating the number of commercials presented is not the greatest option in preventing increases in child obesity as there are various outlets advertisements can be placed. A better solution is implementing light taxing on unhealthy ingredient ads and possible subsidies on healthier foods and their promotions to balance the ratio of poor and healthy food promotions. Also, to combat the repetitive marketing exposure, stronger education in revealing the independence that is gained from resisting pressures of buying unhealthy products and also the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle suppresses the impact of marketing.
The battle between corporation profit and the health of our future generations still takes place. It is up to the consumers to positively respond to the policies implemented to prevent over-marketing to youth in the future. These policies purely acted upon alone will not change obesity rates. However, it a step and factor towards lowering health complication rates.
Clearly, obesity rates have been increasing. But, the issue of obesity rates is highest in the Unites States. The “North American Diet” rich in meat, dairy, fat, sugar, and processed junk food (Greger). In France, the government enforces that “health messages should be accompanied with advertisements . . . for manufactured foods and sweetened beverages that are high in sugar, salt, or artificial colors” (Institute of Medicine). There is still a slight increase in rates but the rates are definitely not as drastic as high as Unites States' obesity rates. Because of the diet we are accustomed to, it is even more important to implement policies like those suggested to regulate the consumption of unhealthy foods, especially by younger children.
...(download the rest of the essay above)