What’s your opinion on fast food advertising? Should it be completely banned like the advertisement of tobacco, or is it fine as it currently is?
“Obesity can kill as effectively as lung cancer, so surely it’s time to stop the food industries peddling these unnecessary wares to children. If the advertising of cigarettes can be banned, so too can advertising junk food,”- Professor Neena Modi, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics
Cancer Research UK have released research regarding the impact of fast food adverts on children. Surveying 137 children in 25 focus groups, the charity examined how aware children are of advertising and whether it affected them.
The children studied were between 8-12 years of age and “appreciated the humour of the adverts” as well as noting that they made them hungry after viewing.
Whilst fast food advertising is banned during children’s TV hours, many are exposed to such adverts watching programmes between 7-9 at night with their families. The exposure and resulting impact of viewing such ads has led over 30 charities to support Cancer Research UK’s call for stricter regulation on fast food adverts.
Many of the charities, including the likes of Obesity Health Alliance, want further regulation on the amount of salt, reduced sugar and saturated fats in foods too.
“It’s clear the restrictions already in place during children’s TV shows aren’t enough. Children are watching junk food adverts during family programmes where these restrictions don’t apply.
“The rise in children’s obesity is a huge concern and a growing epidemic. There must be no delay in taking action. We know that obese children are around five times more likely to be obese adults, and obese adults are more likely to develop cancer. This is why we need regulations to stop junk-food advertising on TV before the 9pm watershed to give children a better chance of a healthy life.”– Alison Cox, Director of Prevention at Cancer Research UK
The argument to place more regulations on fast food advertising is a compelling one and backed up by Cancer Research UK’s findings, which demonstrate how impressionable young children can be. Many of the studies respondents appeared to be greatly influenced by the adverts they watched:
“With the [take-away pizza] advert, like they’re just so cool and they’re so yum,” said one boy from Oxfordshire in year 4. “We always have to go and get it because I can’t resist not going without [pizza] when I see the advert … At the end he like smashes … the [pizza] on the screen and you feel like you’re just going to lick the screen.”
Still, the study had its limitations. Firstly, it was an incredibly small sample of just 137 children which is hardly comprehensive. Secondly, the children were subjected to fast food adverts in a vacuum during the study. Essentially, they just watched two 30-second slots of a fast food advert on their own, which is not representative of a real-world situation. In a real-world situation the advert itself would offer diminished efficacy due to the abundance of other advertisements surrounding it. Not only that, due to the age of the children involved in the study the researchers used mini focus groups of friends. Perhaps the children could have been influenced by the answers their peers gave?
There is no doubt we need to protect children from adverts that may affect their well-being but perhaps more comprehensive studies are needed before stricter regulation is applied.
Also, is a complete ban on the advertisement of fast food necessary? Instead of being overly protective, perhaps the answer lies in better nutritional education in schools to teach children the obvious dangers of obesity.
That said, with obesity such a growing and potent threat, it’s hard to argue against further regulations on fast food advertising.
“Currently a third of children in their final year of primary school in the UK are overweight or obese, which is a massive tragedy because obese children are more likely to grow into obese adults, at greater risk of serious health conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, liver and cardiovascular disease and have poor mental health.”- Professor Neena Modi
Where do you stand on the issue?