The food industry has been forging ahead with a new practice of limiting its ads to kids under the age of 12. A New York Times Article highlights efforts of the food industry to cut back ads that target young children. This is due in large measure to the problem with kids and obesity. Most obese kids end up becoming obese adults, and prolonged problems with weight can lead to many long-term health problems.
As a result, companies have collectively been trying to tackle it from the front end by limiting ads targeted to young children. Companies such as Campbell Soup, Pepsi, and General Mills have developed plans to remove radio, print, and Internet advertising targeted to young children. Even McDonald’s has pledged to change its Happy Meals, replacing fries with apple slices.
I am not convinced that these ads are the primary reason we have unhealthy kids. Too much credit is being given to the power of ads. Of course, limiting ads may be a good start, but more is needed. For starters, most of the kids I know with poor eating habits are part of families who eat poorly. Ads have little impact on children in such families. Take a look at the tobacco industry for instance. Television and radio ads for tobacco products are banned in the United States – Congress passed a law in 1970, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act – but kids still are heavy smokers. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), millions of kids smoke, in spite of the lack of smoking ads. Additionally, nearly 200,000 kids are hospitalized annually due to alcohol poisoning, the CDC reports. More than 4,700 children die from alcohol-related deaths, and although alcohol ads do appear in television, on the radio, and in print and Internet ads, children obviously are not the target audience, yet they still account for millions of dollars in alcohol sales. So, while this effort of food companies is noble, merely limiting the ads is only a first step they need to take.
They need to promote more healthy eating campaigns to kids. Whether favorable or unfavorable, the behaviors of children are learned. I would like to see them promote more healthy eating campaigns. It’s not practical to tell kids to stop eating all junk foods. But there needs to be more of a focus to get kids to also choose healthier items, which can be accomplished through public service campaigns. But the most effective way is to involve parents and families. These companies, if they’re really interested in helping kids to make healthier choices, need to develop information kits (which they could put inside the food’s packages). It could even be in the form of games that families could play together. The companies need to be more proactive than just cutting out ads. Getting kids to think healthy when they are young makes them more likely to do so as they get older.