Ban junk food commercials for kids
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, March 5, 2013 22:03
There’s a growing stereotype about Americans: we’re fat. It’s probably only surpassed by the stereotype that Americans all own guns. But while the cultural relevance of Newtown will pass into the lexicon as a sad memory, children growing up in the United States will increasingly know obesity as a daily reality. In the past 30 years, childhood obesity has doubled in children and tripled in teenagers. In 1980, the number of children between the ages of 6-11 that qualified as obese was around 7 percent. In 2010, that number jumped to 18 percent. Note that these are averages. The Center for Disease Control has maps of the United States showing the state-by-state obesity rate with the Midwest and the South taking the gold.
Enter Ontario, Canada. A new study given to Health Minister Deb Matthews, which pointed to the increasing statistics of childhood obesity (and adult obesity) in the country, gave a somewhat radical suggestion to fighting the health crisis: ban advertising to children under twelve.
It sounds radical, but think about it, how many junk foods are marketed to children? A lot. Turn on the television and cartoon characters pop up with catchphrases regarding the loss of their cereal. (I still remember the quintessential “Gotta have my Pops,” that has since gone the way of the dinosaur). And as we all know, Trix, Cocoa Puffs, Cookie Crisp (do they even make that any more?) and all of those other cereals are loaded with Coca-Cola levels of sugar.
Compound these kid-friendly images with the susceptibility of children to things like advertising. There’s a reason it’s so easy to learn languages when you’re a child as opposed to when you’re in college or as an adult. Taking away the time and commitments (school, work, etc.) the brain is simply more malleable and ready to learn. Unfortunately, this is also a time when the brain can learn wrong things as well. When a kid learns that visiting McDonald’s is equivalent to some fun slides, a ball pit, crawling around tubes like the inside of a Space Station and deliciously fattening French fries, McDonald’s becomes a rewarding experience.
As a kid, that was how I got to know McDonald’s. But I was hardly ever exposed to things like Pop-Tarts or sugary cereals. I have a sneaking suspicion that my parents are not the norm, and many parents in America are more than willing to supply their kids with Coca-Cola as an acceptable dinner drink and Pop-Tarts as part of a “balanced” breakfast. Why? Because television tells us that’s what happens.
We tend to think we’re immune to the sly schemes of advertising, but the proof is in the pudding. The fact that these corporations are so big, so rich, so powerful and so persistent in their advertising is proof that it works. They are selling their sugary, unhealthy, products en masse, and it’s the children that are driving the demand. We’ve all heard the stories, or more likely, have our own of the out-of-control children at the super market that beg their parents to let them just have this one cereal, or this candy, or this snack, or that snack or that snack there. Sometimes, it’s just easier to buy the box of cereal.
It’s easy to say that those are bad parents who let their kids get out of control. It’s easy to say “This is America, don’t tell me what ads I can’t put out” but absolutely no one acknowledges that obesity is a problem.
Take smoking as an example of what could happen. Once upon a time doctors used to recommend brands of cigarettes as easily as toothpastes. But today, cigarette advertising isn’t even allowed on non-print media. Joe Camel was the official mascot of Camel cigarettes for 10 years. He could be seen with sunglasses, wearing a leather jacket, playing pool and riding a motorcycle. Never has a desert beast of burden seemed so cool. So cool, in fact, that in 1991, it’s estimated that 32 percent of all illegal cigarette sales (to minors, obviously) were Camels. The cool Joe Camel ceased to be the mascot for Camel cigarettes in 1997.
No one disputes the health risks smoking poses. And if an adult wants to engage in those risks, more power to them. But science is proving that sugar and fat can cause equally horrifying, if not worse, problems as smoking. Why the double standard?