The Role of the Media in Childhood Obesity
Since 1980 the proportion of overweight children ages 6-11 has
tripled. Today about 10% of 2 to 5 year-olds and 15% of 6 to 19
year-olds are overweight. During the same period in which childhood
obesity increased, there was also an increase in media targeted to
children. Even children ages 6 and under spend as much time with
screen media as they do playing outside. Much of the media targeted to
children promote foods such as sweets, fizzy drinks and snacks. It is
estimated that a child sees approximately 40,000 advertisements a year
on TV alone.
A few ways researchers have hypothesised that advertisements may
contribute to childhood obesity are:
* The food advertisements children are exposed to on TV influence
them to make unhealthy food choices.
* The cross-promotions between food products and popular TV and
movie characters are encouraging children to buy and consume more
Many researchers have suggested the food advertising children are
exposed to through advertising may lead to unhealthy food choices and
weight gain. As the number of channels available has risen
considerably in the 1990s, opportunities to advertise directly to
children expanded as well. The majority of ads targeted at children
are for food including snacks (31%), cereal (23%) and fast food
(27%). One study recorded approximately 11 food commercials per hour
during children’s Saturday morning television programming, estimating
that the average child viewer may be exposed to one food commercial
every 5 minutes.
The effects of food advertising on children
TV ads can influence children’s purchases – and those of their
families. Fast food outlets spend 2 million pounds in television ads
targeted to children.
Recent years have seen an increase in the number of food products
being marketed to children through cross-promotions with popular TV
and movie characters. A few examples are SpongeBob Cheez-its, Hulk
pizzas and Scooby-Doo marshmallow cereal. Fast food outlets also make
frequent use of cross-promotions with children’s media characters.
McDonalds and Disney have an exclusive agreement under which Happy
Meals include toys from top Disney movies. In the past, Happy Meals
have also included toys based on the Teletubbies, which is aimed at
children under 4. One study found that 1 in 6 food commercials aimed
at children promise a free toy. Many commercials also use cartoon
characters to sell products to children, which research has shown to
be particularly effective in...