If being able to rhyme off fast food slogans from the 80s was an Olympic event, you could probably just go ahead and give me my gold medal now. Because I grew up in front of the television, which also means I grew up craving fast food constantly. And while plenty of things have gotten better in advertising since then, junk food advertising still seems to targets kids the most, according to a new study. Which really has to change for so many reasons.
New research conducted by the University of Adelaide in Australia and published in the Journal of Pediatrics and Child Health this week found that ads for junk food tended to be more frequent during times when kids would be watching television in Australia. In fact, if kids just watched 80 minutes of television a day they would end up seeing more than 800 ads for fast food and junk food in one year, according to the study's findings.
Children are naturally easily influenced in their food preferences, as a 2016 study conducted by McMaster University in Ontario found. That study found that children's caloric intakes increased dramatically shortly after being exposed to junk food advertising. And when you consider that children are exposed to twice the amount of ads for unhealthy food choices like fast food chains, sugary sodas, and candy over healthy food options, as the study found, it's no surprise that childhood obesity remains a very real concern.
The recent study conducted by the University of Adelaide only looked at one year's worth of television in Australia, but found that 30,000 hours of television resulted in a full 100,000 junk food ads. The researchers also found that ads for junk food were 2.3 more times likely to be shown during peak viewing hours for kids, and that there were significantly more junk food ads shown when kids were on holiday from school at Christmas and during the summer.
So here's the struggle: Adults have figured out how to distinguish between what is advertising and what is not, but children are too young to really understand the difference. Older kids might get that they're being shown an advertisement for burgers and fries, for instance, but that doesn't necessarily mean they won't be affected unconsciously or emotionally. And the advertisements are not contained to just television either.
In fact, social media advertising to kids is possibly even more prevalent, and decidedly more insidious. So much so that the World Health Organization took it upon itself to set up some recommendations for marketing foods to children in 2010. Social media advertising doesn't just take basic information like age and location into account, but can include complex psychological targeting for both adults and children to ensure maximum persuasion.
Chef and healthy eating advocate Jamie Oliver has started the #AdEnough campaign to attempt to combat the negative side effects of junk food advertising targeting children. Like the fact that one out of every five children in America between the ages of 6 and 19 are obese, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Children living with obesity are at a higher risk for diabetes, asthma, sleep apnea, heart disease, and bone and joint problems, the CDC notes. So how does Oliver hope to change all of that? As he shared on his website:
It’s time we put child health first. I’m calling for the government to introduce a 9pm watershed on junk food advertising on TV, and for proper controls on what ads kids see online, in the street and on public transport.
It seems plenty of people are taking up the cause to protect kids from junk food advertising.
Protecting kids from potentially harmful advertising on television and social media is a pretty tall order, because our world revolves around advertising. So perhaps the best thing you can do is arm your kids with information. Limit their time on the television and on the internet until they're old enough to make informed dietary choices of their own.
Because it's already hard enough to say no to junk food without the added element of clever advertising, right?
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.