Messages matter: Are junk food ads creating a crisis for today’s children?

Advertisements featuring junk food and even cartoon characters endorsing unhealthy foods can lead to problems for children today

By Meenakshi Sushma
Published: Friday 10 May 2019
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Photo: Getty Images Photo: Getty Images

Children view more than 800 junk food advertisements each year, by just watching 80 minutes of television every day states a study conducted in South Australia.

Due to these kind of frequent encounters with unhealthy food, the food choices which children make on a daily basis are influenced by the brands. This change in food choices is further leading to adverse health concerns like obesity.

Recently, a study conducted by Washington State University (WSU) in the United States (US) found that by using Child-Centered Nutritional Phrases (CCNP), with repeated exposure to healthy food, children have started choosing healthy foods.

Over 87 children in the 3-5 age group were selected for the US study and it was conducted for six weeks. During the study, they were offered four types of food items including green peppers (vegetables), tomatoes (vegetables), quinoa (grain), and lentils (protein).

The researchers offered the children a low-rated food out of the four types. The same was offered to them twice a week. They used CCNP for the low-rated foods.

Later, they calculated how frequently the kids ate every day by conducting a follow-up survey one before pre-test, post-test, and one month after the study ended.

The implications of the CCNP started showing after the study ended. "The immediate post-test showed no result, likely because the kids got sick of eating the same foods," Jane Lanigan, associate professor in the WSU Department of Human Development and lead author of the study, told the media.

But one month later, the researchers found that the kids ate two times more CCNP food compared to when food was served without an explanation. "For example, when we presented lentils, we would say, this will help you grow bigger and run faster," Adds Lanigan

The study clearly shows that the food choices which the kids make solely depend on what they see and hear. This is where the advisements, cartoons, etc play a crucial role.

The current generation is more exposed to junk food ads like those featuring fries, chips and soft drinks. Today's cartoons also do not promote healthy food; for example Chhota Bheem, a cartoon character, eats laddus (a sweetmeat)  in order to fight his enemies, whereas 15-20 years ago, a cartoon character called Popeye used to eat spinach to fight his enemies.

Eating home laddus is not unhealthy but overtime, the amount of sugar consumed increases. The only difference between Chhota Bheem and Popeye is what they eat to stay strong. The difference needs to be highlighted to the current generation.

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