Junk food ads bombard teens, putting them at risk
Proposed restrictions on food and beverage advertising to kids should include youth up to age 16. We need to give healthy eating habits a fighting chance
We shield our children and young teenagers from many things: overt portrayals of sex and violence on TV and in movies, drinking alcohol, smoking, owning guns and signing contracts, to name a few.
The reasons are sound: we hope to keep our youth from physical and psychological harm, ,p prevent them from fallingg into bad habits or taking actions with th h long-term consequences they may not fu fully ully understand.
We protect them so o they can have the best possible future.e .
Yet we let them down downd in one vital area: a healthyea althy relationship with food.oo od.
We leave our youth alone and exposed in a brutal marketplace.
Failing to set our youth on a path to a healthy relationship with food is leading to significant health problems now - and d promising shorter an andnd sicker futures.
Since 1979, the n number of Canadian children withith with obesitobesity obesity has tripledtripled, tripled, with ith almost one in three childrenld now h havingi excess weight.i ht I Increases have been highest among youth aged 12 to 17.
Evidence shows that obesity rates are influenced by the amount of marketing kids are exposed to. It puts them at risk for many health problems, including heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Marketing is big business and it’s sophisticated. Millions of dollars are spent targeting children and youth through multiple channels, including TV and social media. New Canadian research reveals that over 90 per cent of food and beverage product ads viewed by kids and teens online are for unhealthy products. The most frequently advertised products on sites frequented by teens include cakes, cookies and ice cream, cereal, restaurants and sugary drinks.
Against this backdrop of pervasive marketing is the fact that less than half of Canadian youth ages 12 to 19 eat the recommended minimum of five servings of fruit and vegetables daily.
Children who view TV fast-food ads are approximately 50 per cent more likely to eat fast food. Regular consumption of fast food is associated with ingesting an extra 800 calories a week for boys and 660 calories for girls, translating into a possible weight gain of 4.5 kg (10 pounds) or more a year.
Quebec saw the light years ago. Since 1980, that province has banned all commercial advertising directed at children under age 13.
Legislation before Canada’s Senate similarly proposes a ban on the advertising of food and beverages to Canadian children under 13. The proposed legislation is an excellent first step. But it needs to be amended to protect children up to age 16. We need to give healthy eating habits a fighting chance.
Other countries, like the United Kingdom, have similar restrictions on food and beverage advertising to children up to
16 16. There’s increasing evidde evidence that teens are particularly vulnerable to foood food and beverage marketing and consume more of it than children. The actionnsactions and reactions of teenna teenagers are often guided byb by the parts of the brain coc connected to emotion an and reward/gratificat tion; this makes teena agers very susceptible to unhealthy impulses - which will surprise no parent. Research also shows teens can critique advertisements when prompted, but on their own are likelyl to believe advertising and acceptaccc misleading claims. In a survey of 128 internnat international experts on food, nutrition and obesity, most reresp respondents recommend restrictions on food and beverage advertisingad until at least until age 16, and more than half recommended an age 18 restriction. When we want a young person to grow up with certain values and behaviours, we ensure that’s what they’re taught, see consistently from role models and experience themselves. It’s called good parenting and good education.
So why do we allow our young people to be continuously bombarded with the opposite of good eating messages and then expect them to grow up with healthy eating habits?
It’s time we added food and beverage advertising to the list of protections we afford our children and teenagers. -TROYMEDIA
Dr. Tom Warshawski is an expert with EvidenceNetwork.ca and chair of the Childhood Obesity Foundation and an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of British Columbia. Mary Lewis is VP Research, Advocacy and Health Promotion, Heart & Stroke. Heart & Stroke and the Childhood Obesity Foundation are founding members of the Stop Marketing to Kids Coalition, whose goal is to restrict food and beverage marketing to Canadian children and youth (www.stopmarketingtokids.ca).