Is food advertising making our kids heavier?

It’s a known fact that between 2011 and 2014, about 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 were obese.  Obesity is associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and certain types of cancers.  This number has held steady over the years, but due to these high obesity rates, this generation of children may have a shorter life expectancy than their parents. 

Reasons for Obesity

Possible causes of obesity include genetics, environmental, and behavioral issues.  Sugary beverages, high fat snacks, limited activity, increased food portions, as well as other environmental issues, all contribute to obesity.  One factor that greatly influences what are kids are eating is the media.  Not only are they watching too much TV and using other electronic devises in excess, the food advertisement has been found to influence our children’s food choices and diets, contributing to obesity.  

Food Marketing to Kids

We know that obesity can be associated with a more sedentary lifestyle.  The more our kids watch TV, the less active they become and are at risk for gaining weight. Children who watch more than three hours of TV a day are 50 percent more likely to be obese than in children who watch less than two hours.  Snacking while watching TV contributes to increased caloric intakes, as well as having a TV in the bedroom, which can be associated with the risk of obesity.

The American Psychological Association reports that food ads on TV make up to 50 percent of all time ads on children’s shows.  These ads primarily focus on unhealthy foods such as candy, high sugar cereals, and fast food.  No ads promote children choosing fruits or vegetables.  Unhealthy food ads can even be found on online games and social media sites, such as YouTube and Netflix.

According the Commercial Free Childhood Campaign, the food industry spends $10 to $15 billion per year marketing to children on unhealthy food choices. Not only do just fast food restaurants promote unhealthy eating to children by using toy prizes in their “kids meals”, schools are also to blame providing junk food marketing through vending machines, team sponsorships, and fundraising. 

 What Can Parents Do?

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics has a strong stand on a new screen time policy. The  AAP recommends babies to not use screens until age 18 months or older and to limit screen time to one hour or less in children ages 2-5.
  • Children ages 6 and older, limit time spent on media and types of media.  Make sure that media does not interfere with their sleep and physical activity.
  • Find times during the day that are media-free, such as dinner, driving, and in bedrooms.
  • Promote an active lifestyle recommending at least one hour of physical activity daily.
  • Encourage healthy eating including family meal time, eating more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and low fat dairy products.
  • View advertisement with your child to educate them on your beliefs and healthier food practices.
  • Try the AAP Family Media Use Plan to develop an appropriate balance for media time based on your child’s developmental stage.

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