Junk Food Ads, Fast Food Increasing Teen Obesity

Tuesday, October 09, 2007 by: John Koshuta
Tags: food marketing, health news, Natural News

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(NaturalNews) Many of the television commercials seen by teenagers are for junk food products. According to research released this week by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, this may be a major reason obesity rates continue to rise among 12-17 year-olds. The studies examined by researchers at the University of Illinois-Chicago and University of Michigan concluded that 26% of TV ads seen by teens were for food products. The vast majority of these products contain high amounts of fat, sugar and sodium.

The groups most impacted by junk food ads are low-income and minority teens. With higher percentages of fast food restaurants in urban communities and race specific junk food marketing campaigns, it is obvious why teens in these groups are experiencing skyrocketing obesity rates.

To make matters worse, poorer and nonwhite neighborhoods also have fewer fruit and vegetable markets, bakeries, specialty stores, and natural food stores. In the Detroit metropolitan area the poorest African American neighborhoods are an average of 1.1 miles further from the nearest supermarket than are impoverished white neighborhoods, according to a 2005 study by the Institute of Medicine.

Teens also have few healthy choices at school. According to the research, many middle schools and high schools offer more unhealthy foods than nutritious foods. Many people believe schools carry a substantial burden of responsibility -- just behind parents and individuals -- when it comes to addressing childhood obesity.

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) serves twenty-nine million school children every day and costs American taxpayers more than $7 billion a year to provide "nutritionally balanced" meals. Many students, however, fill up on items such as soft drinks, chips, and cookies, which are high in added sugars, fats, calories, and sodium, but low in nutrition. Such "junk foods" sold in vending machines, cafeteria a la carte lines, and school stores are known as "competitive foods" because they compete with federally funded meals.

In the article “Soft Drink Pouring Rights,” New York University Professor and renowned author Marion Nestle stated the following:

Healthy People 2010 objectives call for meals and snacks served in schools to contribute to overall diets that meet federal dietary guidelines. Sales in schools of foods and drinks high in calories and low in nutrients undermine this health objective, as well as participation in the more nutritious, federally sponsored, school lunch programs. Competitive foods also undermine nutrition information taught in the classroom. Lucrative contracts between school districts and soft drink companies for exclusive rights to sell one brand are the latest development in the increasing commercialization of school food. These contracts, intended to elicit brand loyalty among young children who have a lifetime of purchases ahead of them, are especially questionable because they place schools in the position of “pushing” soft drink consumption. “Pouring rights” contracts deserve attention from public health professionals concerned about the nutritional quality of children's diets.

As of March 2007, federal efforts to establish consistent nationwide nutrition standards for all competitive foods and beverages sold in schools was embodied in the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2007. First introduced in both houses in May 2006, the bill was reintroduced in the 110th Congress and has continued to enjoy bipartisan support from numerous co-sponsors.

In May 2006, the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services released a report recommending concrete steps that industry can take to change their marketing and other practices to make progress against childhood obesity.
Among the agencies recommendations are that food companies:

· Intensify their efforts to create new products and reformulate existing products to make them lower in calories, more nutritious, more appealing to children, and more convenient to prepare and eat;
· Review and revise their marketing practices with the goal of improving the overall nutritional profile of the foods marketed to children, for example, by adopting minimum nutritional standards for the foods they market to children, or by otherwise shifting emphasis to lower-calorie, more nutritious products;
· Review and revise their policies to improve the overall nutritional profile of the products they market and sell in schools.

In focusing on racial and ethnic populations in which childhood obesity is more prevalent, the agencies recommended that:

· Food companies make a concerted effort to include, as part of their marketing of more nutritious, lower-calorie foods, promotions that are tailored to these communities; and
· Food companies, the media, and entertainment companies tailor their outreach efforts to promote better nutrition and fitness to these populations.

In 1983, food marketers spent $100 million on television advertising to kids. Today, they pour roughly 150 times that amount into a variety of mediums that seek to infiltrate every corner of children’s worlds. The average American child today is exposed to an estimated 40,000 television commercials a year — over 100 per day. Since 1980, childhood obesity rates have tripled among adolescents.

About the author

John is an experienced professional in the field of wellness. Along with a BS degree in Exercise Science & Health Promotion, the author also has a BA in Journalism and is in progress on a MA in Health Studies. Among the author's many forthcoming projects are an independent wellness consulting business and a health-related website, along with many articles and books.

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