(NaturalNews) The days of Saturday morning cartoons are long gone. Today, kids can watch cartoons and other children's programming on a variety of channels anytime they turn on the TV. Parents would do well to keep a close eye on not only what and how much their children are watching, but the content of the commercials they are exposed to. Junk food and beverage companies are spending upwards of $2 billion a year (1) peddling their poison by reaching into the living rooms of unsuspecting parents who, all too often, use television as a surrogate baby-sitter.
A Kaiser Family Foundation study, conducted from May to September 2005, monitored 13 television networks and saw 2,613 ads directly targeting children and teens with junk food and drinks. It found that children from the ages of 2 to 12 see an average of 30 to 50 hours of junk food advertising every year. (2)
In November 2009, several major food manufacturers, including McDonalds, Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc., agreed to promote healthier choices with half of their child-directed advertising. (2) In effect, they are asking to police themselves rather than be policed.
From 2003 to 2009, exposure to fast food TV ads increased by 21 percent for preschoolers, 34 percent for children aged 2-11, and 39 percent for teenagers. McDonalds alone spent $898.1 million on advertising in 2009. That year, the average 2-5 year-old child saw 309 McDonalds ads, almost 3 per day. As a result, 40 percent of parents say their children ask them to go to McDonalds at least once a week. Do parents give in? 84 percent reported taking their child to a fast food restaurant at least once a week. (3)
The sad truth about junk food propaganda in advertising
While the FTC in the United States tinkers with voluntary guidelines that would be in place by 2016 (4), the UK banned advertisements for foods high in fat, salt, or sugar during children's programming back in 2007. (5)
Did it work? On February 15, 2012 the BBC reported that, despite the ban, children are exposed to an even higher level of junk food advertising than they were before! This is because, among other reasons, children watch a lot more television than just children's programs. (6)
While government regulation may or may not be a viable solution, clearly there is nothing substantive behind the lip-service junk food peddlers give to 'self-policing.' Just as the tobacco companies would have continued advertising and selling their wares to teenagers a generation ago, junk food companies aren't about to let public health get in the way of a healthy profit.
A better alternative?
Ultimately it is every parent's responsibility to become educated on these issues and decide what their children consume, but the constant plethora of junk and fast food advertising certainly does nothing to make their jobs easier. Far too many parents, even those who know better, give in to make their children happy, avoid a tantrum or just as a matter of convenience. Parents should consider doing away with network television and the damaging programming and commercials that go with it. Instead of subjecting their children to countless hours of corporate propaganda that undermines everything parents are trying to teach, perhaps they should pull the plug entirely or opt for DVDs or streaming services such as Hulu or Netflix, where there are no commercials and parents can keep better track of what their children are watching. The positive health effects of breaking this propaganda stranglehold are far-reaching and multi-generational.
About the author: Scott is a blogger, writer, and researcher whose primary focus is how to raise healthy kids despite a system and status quo that makes it as difficult as possible. He and his wife, Kim, live in the hills of east Tennessee with their four small children. He holds an MBA from East Tennessee State University. Scott and Kim blog about parenting, marriage, healthy lifestyle, nutrition, and homesteading at www.amorefieldlife.com. Connect with them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/amorefieldlife.
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