children's health

TV Ads Prompt Kids’ Unhealthy Habits

The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a new policy statement in response to what it calls a rising tide of advertising aimed at children.

They feel that inappropriate advertising contributes to many kids’ ills, from obesity to anorexia, to drinking booze and having sex too soon, and The U.S.Congress should crack down on it.

Young people view more than 40,000 ads per year on television alone and increasingly are being exposed to advertising on the Internet, in magazines, and in schools,” the policy says.

Advertising examples cited in the statement include TV commercials for sugary breakfast cereals and high calorie snacks shown during children’s programs and ads for Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs shown during televised sports games.

The statement also is critical of alcohol ads that feature cartoonish animal characters; fast-food ads on educational TV shown in schools; magazine ads with stick-thin models and toy and other product “tie-ins” between popular movie characters and fast-food restaurants.

These pervasive ads influence kids to demand poor food choices, and to think drinking is cool, sex is a recreational activity and anorexia is fashionable, the academy says.

Interactive digital TV, expected to arrive in a few years, will spread the problem, allowing kids to click on-screen links to Web-based promotions, the new policy says.

In response, the academy says doctors should ask Congress and federal agencies to:

–ban junk-food ads during shows geared toward young children;

–limit commercial advertising to no more than 6 minutes per hour, a decrease of 50 percent;

–restrict alcohol ads to showing only the product, not cartoon characters or attractive young women;

–prohibit interactive advertising to children on digital TV.

Spokespeople for Viacom, whose holdings include TV’s Nickelodeon network and MTV, declined to offer immediate comment on the report. Viacom has urged its marketing partners to advertise healthier products, and is among media companies that have been involved in discussions with federal agencies and advocacy groups about advertisers marketing to children.

While hard scientific data linking advertising with children’s health ills is lacking, Strasburger said there’s compelling circumstantial evidence suggesting there’s a connection.

Last year, the Institute of Medicine agreed that evidence suggesting that TV ads contribute to childhood obesity is compelling and said industry should market healthy foods to kids.

And in September, the Federal Communications Commission said it will study potential links between TV ads and rising rates of obesity in U.S. children.

The food industry has started to respond.

Two weeks ago, McDonald’s joined nine major food and drink companies in vowing to promote more healthy foods and exercise in their child-oriented advertising. And last year Kraft Foods said it would curb ads to young children for snack foods including Oreos and Kool-Aid.

Harvard psychologist Susan Linn, a co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, praised the academy’s policy and said it doesn’t overstate the effects of advertising on children.

“I’m hopeful that policymakers will listen,” Linn said. Self-regulation in the food industry, without a nudge from government, won’t work, she said.

Companies now just worry about their bottom lines. They do not appear to care about the repercussions from the sugary products they manufacture. For years, the fast food chains have been selling deep fried foods to children. Now, only under pressure from parents, health professionals and documentaries they have started to review their menus.

I am personally glad that The Academy of Pediatrics finally put the issue forward. I hope the corporations are listening. You need to protect the health of the children that will someday run the country.

About the author

Lisa Arneill

SAHM of 2 boys and founder of and World Traveled Family. When I'm not running around after my boys, I'm looking for our next vacation spot!

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