The American Psychology Association has released a report on its APA website (citing multiple sources but no single author) that link childhood obesity with advertising and the results indicate that America’s children are more exposed than ever to advertisements even as the obesity epidemic worsens.
The report, researched and written by a panel of expert clinicians, dieticians and doctors shows what appears to be a direct correlation between advertising and obesity in children. Specifically, the authors find that the rates for childhood obesity have tripled over the past twenty five year. They then list the results of multiple surveys that have been undertaken that show that children of all ages have during the same period been exposed to more advertisements for food than during any other point in history.
Data in the report shows that children are more exposed to commercials for food due to more available sources. Where twenty five years ago, there was just one main source of commercials, now there are multiple sources, including, but not limited to: television, the internet, cell phones and even school outlets.
Some of the information in the lengthy report includes one data source that indicates that children under the age of 8 don’t have the capacity to understand the difference between television content and commercials. Also, children have better memories than was previously thought and are more susceptible to claims made for commercial products. Studies indicate that children are capable of being induced to want a certain product after exposure to just one commercial.
The group also found that some commercials can cause detrimental self-image problems for children especially young girls as product endorsements tend to make them feel they are not measuring up and thus need the product being sold to feel “normal.”
They also found that obesity rates increase as children spend more hours watching television. One study cited showed that for every one hour of television watched higher rates of intake of foods high in fats and sweets are observable. They also found that on average, food ads make up half of all ads aired during children’s programming and that most of them are for unhealthy products.
The authors also cite several other studies that show that children quite often are unable to discern between real content and ads on the Internet, particularly on sites that are dedicated to them. In addition, they found that the Internet has a new form of marketing based on viral information where ads encourage children to share what they’ve learned in ads with other children.
And finally, the group found a disturbing trend in the school. Advertisements appear as part of educational videos, as corporate sponsors for equipment or materials, as part of food or snack sales and sometimes even as part of school sanctioned sales. In some instances, some schools even allow advertisements to be pasted onto buses or on the walls of restrooms.
Clearly we as a society have an enormous problem on our hands and are doing little about it. Marketers, adults, educators and parents are not doing enough to shield children from the constant barrage of advertising for foods that contribute to obesity, and our kids are the ones suffering for it.