The World Health Organization quoted obesity in children as one of the major healthcare concerns of the present century. The report shared by WHO in 2010 stated that in Australia, nearly 8 per cent of children were assessed to be obese and 17 per cent were high on BMI index (obese). This was an alarming scenario, as it may lead to many underlying health conditions in adulthood or even before they reach in their twenties or thirties. The health problems related to childhood obesity include diabetes, depression, anxiety, cancers, which is the most dreadful of all other vicious diseases and others.
It is correct to say that the choices of food made by the parents as well as the children is heavily based on what they see on television. Television and social media are big influencers as they are being used by various food brands to target a large group of people, especially children. This article aims to establish a relationship between marketing and advertising of junk food on an increase in the rate of childhood obesity in Australia.
The current generation is focused on quick fixes for everything. This goes well with parents as well. Parenting is hard and requires a lot of effort. With the modernization of time, most of the parents are getting busier and relying on fast and easy foods to fill their children’s belly, even if they are not healthy eating options. Appearances of big names, idols, movie stars, etc in the advertisements of junk foods make it look lucrative and delicious. This is misleading for most of the parents as well as children and cause them to away from making healthy choices for their meals. There is never an advertisement for broccoli or fruits but a packet of lays will be advertised several times in a day.
Childhood obesity is a modifiable behavioural risk factor, it is also used synchronously with a modern age disease because of the environment we live in (Reeve, 2016). Children are most affected by the advertisements because they have increased exposure to television than having to play any outdoor games. These advertisements impact on the behaviours as well as moods of the children (Folkvord et al., 2016), as children easily believe the advertisement as facts and are unable to make a difference between facts from a make-belief ad. For example, eating certain brands for churros is portrayed in a way that shows them to be powerful and all children want to become powerful and force their parents to buy the churros of that specific brand (Norman et al., 2018).
This kind of marketing strategy does not limit itself to television alone, but has also penetrated many social media platforms. It can be seen, that brands such as Dominos, McDonald's and PEPSICO, are all over the world, with everyone wanting to grab a pizza for lunch instead of a healthy tiffin of fruits and salads. The exposure to such advertisements leads every child to spend their pocket money ordering unhealthy pizzas and cokes in the school canteens. Schools and other learning or educational institutes should focus on encouraging students to eat healthy.
The governing body of the school must ensure that it is healthy as well as tasty options available in the canteens and also must encourage the students to mostly eat homemade or home-cooked food which they bring in their tiffin. It is also mandatory that the children, as well as the parent, are educated about foods and how they work in our body. Basic scientific knowledge related to common nutrients, maintaining nutritional balance and living a healthy lifestyle must be encouraged by the teachers or educators (Obesity Policy Coalition, n.d).
The occurrence of childhood obesity has significantly doubled from 4% in the year 1975 to 8% in 2016 (Smith et al., 2019). The journal public of Health reported in one of their studies conducted in 2015 that about 44 per cent of the advertisements in Sydney were related to unhealthy kind of foods and 21 per cent of the ad constituted for fast or junk foods (Smith et al., 2019; Watson, 2017). The study also concluded an interesting fact regarding the air time and frequency of the ads, which was directly targeting the children. As per the research conducted by Kovic, (2018), 98 per cent of children in Australia of age group between 5-14 years watch the television for nearly 2.5 hours per day on an average.
According to the study, it was found that the children were being showed an average of three unhealthy food advertisements per hour during the peak periods of their TV watching time. Fast food ads covered an air time of 1.3 hours, other frequently aired advertisements include chocolates and confectionary, which were aired for about 0.7 hours and sugary drinks aired for 0.4 hours (Smithers et al.,2018). Thus, it can be maintained that marketing of junk food products plays a central role in increasing incidence of obesity in childhood. In 2009, two self-regulatory initiatives were implemented by the Australian Food and Grocery Council to reduce the advertisement of unhealthy and junk food items or beverages but they have not been successful (Watson, 2017).
This is because these rules were not monitored properly and did not have any governmental interference, of which the food companies took clear advantages of. Another loophole in this self-regulatory code was the presence of clause stating that "advertising to children" can be done when the audience comprises of a minimum of 35 per cent of children. According to a study, it was noted that about 40,000 children were watching the rugby league and 30,000 watching a popular cooking show, in Sydney and they all totalled to nearly only 10 per cent of the audience. Therefore, they were compliant of its their own rule but acted as a scapegoat for running their hidden agenda of marketing in shadow of the code.
There should be tighter regulation of food and advertising during the periods in which the children are exposed to television. It is also necessary that parents follow strict discipline at home regarding the children's exposure to social media and follow them closely regarding their likes and dislikes in food. It is the responsibility of the parent to ensure that their child eats a healthy and balanced diet. It is necessary to educate the children to eat consciously. Home-cooked meals should be encouraged in schools and food should not be treated as a prize for doing a good job. Connecting food with doing well academically or connecting it with a child’s behaviour is not a good practice (Kelly et al., 2019). School canteens should be given strict guidelines to provide healthy foods and eating options instead of junk food.
Children should be taught about nutrients and having a balanced diet through play way or other interesting methods. Many governmental, as well as non-profit organizations, have come forward to address this issue. It is also mandatory that the children, as well as the parent, are educated about foods and how they work in our body (Rossiter, 2019). Basic scientific knowledge related to common nutrients, maintaining nutritional balance and living a healthy lifestyle must be encouraged by the teachers or educators. Various government and non-governmental organizations have also joined the cause.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, The Public Health Association of Australia and many others have called for mandating limitations and even outright ban on advertisement of food on television which are aimed directly at children to improve their sales or revenue (Obesity Policy Coalition, n.d). Furthermore, the World Health Organization has recently endorsed a global strategy about diet, physical activity and health in section 46.3, advising that the food and beverage advertisements should not cause exploitation of children and their inexperience to their benefit (WHO, n.d).
It can be concluded that there is a direct relationship between the advertisements of junk food and the causation of childhood obesity. The impact is directly proportional to the amount of exposure of the children to such advertisements or marketing strategies of big brands which do not only focus on children as their target audience but also are causing them to lead an unhealthy lifestyle and pushing them towards serious health issues such as cancer, diabetes, depression and others. All these diseases are related to the childhood food habits. Parents and educators must understand the perils of junk food and its impact on the health of their children. They must take control of the situation and encourage by example, to eat and live a healthy and active life.
Folkvord, F., Anschütz, D. J., Boyland, E., Kelly, B., & Buijzen, M. (2016). Food advertising and eating behaviour in children. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 9, 26-31.
Kelly, B., Boyland, E., King, L., Bauman, A., Chapman, K., & Hughes, C. (2019). Children’s exposure to television food advertising contributes to strong brand attachments. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(13), 2358.
Kovic, Y., Noel, J. K., Ungemack, J. A., & Burleson, J. A. (2018). The impact of junk food marketing regulations on food sales: an ecological study. Obesity Reviews, 19(6), 761-769.
Norman, J., Kelly, B., McMahon, A. T., Boyland, E., Baur, L. A., Chapman, K., ... & Bauman, A. (2018). Children's self-regulation of eating provides no defence against television and online food marketing. Appetite, 125, 438-444.
Obesity Policy Coalition, (n.d). A Comprehensive Approach to Protecting Children from Unhealthy Food Advertising and Promotion. Retrieved from https://www.opc.org.au/downloads/submissions/protecting-children-unhealthy-food-advertising-promotion.pdf
Reeve, B. (2016). Self Regulation of Food Advertising to Children: An Effective Tool for Improving the Food Marketing Environment. Monash UL Rev., 42, 419.
Rossiter, J. R. (2019). Children and “junk food” advertising: Critique of a recent Australian study. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 18(4), 275-282.
Smith, R., Kelly, B., Yeatman, H., & Boyland, E. (2019). Food marketing influences children’s attitudes, preferences and consumption: A systematic critical review. Nutrients, 11(4), 875.
Smithers, L. G., Haag, D. G., Agnew, B., Lynch, J., & Sorell, M. (2018). Food advertising on Australian television: Frequency, duration and monthly pattern of advertising from a
commercial network (four channels) for the entire 2016. Journal of paediatrics and child health, 54(9), 962-967.
Watson, W (2017). Food industry failing to self-regulate junk food ads to kids. Retrieved from https://www.cancercouncil.com.au/blog/food-industry-failing-self-regulate-junk-food-ads-kids/
WHO (n.d). Reducing the impact of marketing of foods and non-alcoholic beverages on children. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/elena/titles/food_marketing_children/en/
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