The promotion of unhealthy food contributes greatly to the obesity epidemic that is growing in the U.S. and across the globe. Today about 17.1% of American children ages 2-19 are overweight, amounting to 12 million children. America’s youth is obviously vulnerable to the increase in food advertisements, as evidenced by the fact that the increase of overweight children is twice the rate as adults.
Food companies claim that their advertisements are meant to influence consumers' brand selection, not the type of food that they buy. But when the majority of food advertisements on kids TV networks are for unhealthy food, children are obviously going to prefer fast food and sugary cereals over fruits and vegetables.
Food companies target children and influence them to buy their product using promotional ties with other companies. Why do you think labels on cereal boxes claim “prize inside” and McDonald's displays the characters from the most recent Disney movie alongside the cheeseburger, fries and Coca-cola in the “Happy Meal”? These clever promotions, combining food and toys awaken your child’s hunger for both fun and tasty but unhealthy food.
If you still don’t believe that the marketing of food has effectively influenced children just ask any American child who Ronald McDonald is. A study found that 100% of American children know who this red, white and yellow clown is. McDonald's is so widespread that Ronald McDonald is the second most recognizable figure in the world, second only to Santa Clause. That may seem unbelievable, but with a $635 million advertising budget in 2001, McDonald's obviously has a great impact on the world’s diet.
How can parents protect their children when they are constantly barraged with advertisements promoting unhealthy food chains and diets? It seems impractical and even unfair to completely prevent your child from watching TV. Additionally there are many more venues than the television for food advertisements, such as billboards, taxi cabs, buses, and vending machines. Unless you live in a rural area, void of all modern technology, such as an Amish community, your children will always be susceptible to the manipulation of the food industry.
All parents want the best for their children, especially good health. With recent trends of increased diabetes and other obesity-related diseases in American youths, the current generation of children may be the first to not outlive their parents. However, this frightening possibility can be prevented. While governmental polices lag behind in addressing this national health concern, individual action is imperative. Until the government passes policies to combat the unhealthy food environment and obesity, education may be one of the only ways to protect your children against the manipulation of food advertising.
Becoming aware yourself of healthy living habits is the first step and the second is to pass your valuable knowledge down to your children. For parents who are interested in learning more ways to teach your children how to eat a balanced diet and live a long and healthy life, visit the website for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation: healthiergeneration.org.