To combat obesity, there are an increasing number of calls to ban junk food advertisements that are aimed at kids. The latest call was from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which released a policy statement on junk food ads on Monday.
Emma Boyland, from the University of Liverpool in the UK, led the research which involved 6 to 13 year olds, found that a DVD featuring junk & fast food advertisements seemed to boost children’s appetite for the featured foods.
There was a larger craving for fatty and sweet foods after viewing the advertisements, compared to days when the kids involved in the research just watched advertisements for toys.
Children who watched over 21 hours of television a week, found the results to be especially true, compared to those kids who watched less TV.
Researchers were modest and said the effects of the food only made a small difference in the average number of food items the kids said they wanted “right now”.
Boyland wrote “There are too many variables to take into account. It will never be possible to show in an experimental study that food commercials contribute to obesity”.
Other factors that could contribute to kids eating more junk food in real life, include the willingness of their parents to buy those foods and young children’s “pester power”.
Lori Dorfman, who has studied food marketing to children and is the director of the Berkeley Media Studies Group in California, said that “This study verifies the increasing, sustained effect of food marketing on television: the more kids watch TV, the more susceptible they are to advertising”.
Dorfman added “This wouldn’t be so bad if marketers put their best foods forwards, but they don’t”.
Children are topping up their hours of watching TV nowadays as it’s easily accessible on mobile phones, computers and gadgets, Dorfman noted.
Dorfman also said “Food companies are spending $2 billion on advertising each year, targeting kids with irresistible adverts for high-fat, salty, sugary foods and it’s simply not reasonable to expect parents to counter the companies alone”. To counter the fast food advertisers, we also need support from other people, including restaurants, suppliers, celebrity chefs, restaurant insurance providers, the government and supermarkets.