One subject that you can guarantee will get a heated reaction from me is when discussing the advertising strategies of the fast food and fizzy drinks industry. I have to admit that it’s often very cleverly done – some of the advertisements have such a ‘feel-good factor’ that even I get sucked in at times. At least, I can then make an objective decision about the product being advertised.
These slick advertisements and the brands themselves are targeted towards our children, aimed at the younger generation with their favourite football star or TV personality linked to products creating preferences for certain food products. This, in turn, leads to pressure on parents to acquiesce to their child’s requests for these foods.
I could be wrong but to me it would seem unlikely, with his level of fitness, that top footballer Christiano Ronaldo would be a regular customer at KFC! Yet some of our most famous sport stars seem willing to put their names to such brands in order to line their pockets with money while luring young fans to take on bad eating habits that could lead to a lifetime of obesity! It’s not just the stars themselves – FIFA has been heavily criticised in the past for its choice of sponsors for The World Cup including brands such as McDonalds and Coca Cola.
And it works! In 2010, the Fast Food FACTS report, carried out by Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity in the U.S., found that 84% of parents took their children to a fast food restaurant EVERY week.
Childhood obesity has tripled over the last 20 years and almost 20% of our children are now considered to be overweight or obese. Even more poignant is the fact that these statistics are not only related to teenagers or tweens, but also to children as young as 2 years old!
Childhood obesity creates long-term issues – children who are obese generally become obese adults. Obesity in adults leads to a large number of health issues and complications that often results in hospitalization and a reduced life expectancy. It has been suggested that this generation of children will be the first to grow up with a lower life expectancy than their parents.
Let’s go back to fizzy drinks! A can of soda contains around 10 teaspoons (yes, that’s TEN teaspoons) of sugar – whereas the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends a daily intake of only 3 teaspoons (12 grams) for a child. For an average adult the daily recommendation is around 6 teaspoons.
Even those products that we might think of as being “healthy choices” for example, many breakfast cereals, more often than not actually contain more sugar in one bowl than the recommended daily sugar intake for children (and adults). Fruit juices can contain even more sugar than fizzy drink products – and yet fruit juices are often touted as being the healthy alternative to fizzy drinks.
Changing attitudes towards diet choices can be difficult when aggressive advertising techniques constantly undermine parent’s efforts to encourage their children to eat healthily. In 2012, fast food restaurants spent $4.6 Billion on advertising. Most of the advertising of unhealthy food and drinks is specifically placed during children’s TV shows, on social media sites and targets online games that children and teens play on their tablets or smartphones.
Clearly there needs to be changes in the advertising rules around unhealthy food and drink choices and there is most definitely a part to be played by the government and the medical profession in introducing preventative measures to reducing obesity – particularly in children.
However, making changes starts at home and parents need to take an active role in what their children consume – both in terms of technology and what goes in their mouths at mealtimes!
Parents need to encourage children to adopt an active lifestyle that includes regular exercise, time outdoors and healthy eating habits. This should also mean having social family mealtimes with healthy food – and without TV or any other technological distractions.
Limit your children’s screen time to two hours a day (or no time at all for under 2 year olds). Setting limits on how much time your children spend on their computers, smartphones and watching TV can have a dramatic effect on obesity. Research shows that children who spend more than three hours either watching television or browsing online are twice as likely to be obese than those who spend less than two hours in front of a screen. This means that they will be exposed to less advertising as well as encouraging a more active lifestyle.
A big no-no is allowing your children to have technology in their bedroom. Having all computers, televisions and other technology in common areas makes it so much easier to monitor what is being watched. This includes ensuring that your children do not take their smartphone or tablet to bed with them! Studies have found a link between using technology at night and a lack of sleep and both of these seem to correlate to an increase in obesity and poor academic performance.
Wherever possible, plan your TV viewing and record those programmes you want to watch. This allows you to watch the programmes later and fast forward through the advertisements. When watching live TV, mute the advertisements and encourage your children to stand up and be active during the break, taking their attention away from the screen.
I would encourage you to get educated about the sugar and other ingredients in your food. Ignore the advertising on food packaging and check out the contents for yourself – do some research. Find out what is in the food you are eating. Swap sugary drinks for a tall glass of water instead. Eat fresh vegetables and fruit and healthy homemade meals as often as possible. Speak to your child about food choices and include them in the process, so they can start to understand for themselves and make healthy decisions based on the facts.
Most importantly – as a parent, you should be setting an example. Eat healthily yourself, be active, limit your own time on the internet, pay attention to your children rather than half-focusing on them and half on your phone and keep that TV switched off… at least until the kids are in bed, anyway!
I would love to hear your views on this subject – please get in touch and leave your comments below.