There is no doubt parenting can be tricky. As caregivers for kidlets, we each do our best help them thrive.
But sometimes you can feel you are up against it. Hands up if you have endured the struggle between what highly processed junk food your kid wants to eat, and what healthful, real food delight you have in mind (and believe is best) for them?
While we don’t want mealtimes to be associated with struggle and stress, shaping beneficial tastes and eating habits in a child’s early years is vitally important. It is a time when optimum nutrition is imperative for their rapid growth and development, and when tastes and eating behaviours are being formed, with effects persisting well into adulthood.
Without healthy eating habits, kids are being set-up for increased risk for serious health issues – short and long-term.
There are many factors that influence what a child eats and drinks. Home, care centre and preschool environments all play a part. Yet another very powerful influence is direct television advertising and marketing of food and drinks to children.
In an attempt to shape positive eating behaviours, and avoid mealtimes or supermarket trips becoming a battleground, the exposure and influence of such marketing is something we must all be aware of.
Marketing to children
A recent review published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed high-sugar cereal ads screened during children’s television shows increased the consumption of those specific products by the children who were exposed to those ads.1
“We conducted the first longitudinal study among preschool-age children to see how exposure to TV ads for high-sugar cereals influences kids’ subsequent intake of those advertised cereals,” said study author, Jennifer Emond. “An important and novel aspect of our study is that we were able to look at brand-specific effects. In other words, does advertising for ‘Brand X’ cereal relate to an increased intake of ‘Brand X’ cereal?”
Emond says marketing nutritionally-poor foods directly to children can contribute to children’s poor quality diet, and can increase desire and pester power.
“Brands specifically target children in their advertising knowing that children will ask their parents for those products.”
This isn’t the first study to reveal such a correlation, as we have discussed previously.
It is important to keep in mind that children are more susceptible to influence by direct marketing than adults. And while TV advertising is an obvious avenue to get kids attention, marketing can also reach our children in more insidious ways, such as product placement, attractive packaging, sponsorship of children’s sports, and via online games, to name a few.
The funny thing is, most people would prefer their kids are NOT exposed to such advertising! The pestering that results at the supermarket for the latest sugary cereal promising (seemingly) irresistible games or competitions can be an enduring experience and hampers many parents’ efforts to encourage and shape healthy eating habits.
In fact, according to the Obesity Policy Coalition, “…opinion polls consistently show that around 90% of the public support strong regulations to limit food marketing to children, but the countering force of industry lobbying has been able to carry more sway on government policy, delaying much-needed regulatory intervention to protect children.”2
Despite recent industry-led initiatives to reduce the marketing of unhealthy food to Australian children, rates of advertising have not slowed.3 Government intervention for limiting the advertising of unhealthful food and drink to kids is important. Past research has identified that one of the most cost-effective population-based health interventions would be to restrict TV food advertising to children.4
What to do
The problem here is not specifically that children will eat high-sugar cereals, but that these foods are likely one of many over a day that is high in added sugar or highly processed. Kids end up with a poorer quality diet overall and an increased desire for such foods over more a healthful approach to eating. Long-term, this can become an issue, as what we eat is critical in determining health outcomes.
However, there is much we can do in the home to help reduce exposure, or the impact of, advertising aimed at children, such as:
- Switching to ad-free television
- Monitoring what games or apps they use on digital devices, choosing ad-free or limiting their use altogether
- If your child is older, perhaps have them think about the influence of advertising. Keep in mind, it is believed that until the age of 8 years, most children are not able to differentiate between advertising and it’s bias, and it being simply another source of information.5
See advice from Raising Children’s Network for more.
By Angela Johnson (BHSc Nut. Med.)
- Emond, JA et al. 2018, ‘Exposure to Child-Directed TV Advertising and Preschoolers’ Intake of Advertised Cereals’,American Journal of Preventive Medicine, vol.56, no. 2, pp. e35–e43, viewed 7 February 2019 <https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(18)32283-9/fulltext>
- Obesity Policy Coalition 2011, A comprehensive approach to protecting children from unhealthy food advertising and promotion, viewed 21 February 2019 <http://www.opc.org.au/downloads/submissions/protecting-children-unhealthy-food-advertising-promotion.pdf>
- Watson, WL Lau, V Wellard, L Hughes, & Chapman, K 2017, ‘Advertising to children initiatives have not reduced unhealthy food advertising on Australian television’, Journal of Public Health,1-6, viewed 21 February 2019 <https://academic.oup.com/jpubhealth/article/39/4/787/2966185>
- Magnus, A Haby, MM Carter, R & Swinburn, B 2009, ‘The cost-effectiveness of removing television advertising of high-fat and/or high-sugar food and beverages to Australian children’, International Journal of Obesity, vol. 33, pp 1094-1102, viewed 21 February 2019, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19652656>
- Harris, JL & Graff , SK 2011, “Protecting Children From Harmful Food Marketing: Options for Local Government to Make a Difference”, Preventing Chronic Disease, vol.8, no. 5, pp. A92, viewed 21 February 2019, <https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181192/>