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Unhealthy food ads dominate children’s TV

15/02/2006

Unhealthy food ads dominate children’s TV

New research indicates that the majority of food advertisements on children’s television are for unhealthy food.

The research shows that New Zealand children watching television during “children’s TV viewing times” see an average of 12 food advertisements an hour.

Around 70 percent of these ads are for food the researchers describe as “counter to improved nutrition”. Only 5 percent of the ads were for foods that “favoured improved nutrition”.

Otago University researchers at the Wellington School of Medicine studied the frequency and content of advertising on television in the early morning, after school, early evening and weekend mornings and compared the data with that of a similar study carried out in 1997.

The new study, “Marketing Fat and Sugar to Children on New Zealand Television” is published in the international journal, Preventive Medicine. It notes that the number of food advertisements has gone up since 1997 when the average was eight ads per hour.

The researchers also note that compared with Australia, New Zealand has significantly more food ads for food high in fat and/or sugar. International studies of food advertising, that do not include New Zealand, place Australian advertising rates for food among the highest in the world.

“Advertisers frequently claim ads don’t influence children’s food choices but the scientific evidence shows otherwise. Work published in Britain and the US shows that advertising does influence what children eat,” says Celia Murphy, Executive Director of the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC).

“The messages children get about food from advertising give all the wrong ideas about what they can eat on an everyday basis. The advertisements make it seem completely normal to eat high sugar, high fat foods everyday. The diet TV ads promote is just not healthy enough for anyone but especially not for children.

“A third of New Zealand children are too heavy for their health. We have to protect our children from this unhealthy advertising environment if we want our children to grow up healthy. Overweight and obese children are at risk of so many health problems as they get older,” says Ms Murphy.

"This study only measures some of the TV advertisements children are exposed to. Most children watch outside these ‘children’s viewing times’ and TV is just one way kids get the promotional and marketing messages. Websites, print media, cell phone texts, sponsorship branding and even curriculum materials in schools are other ways food manufacturers reach and influence children,” says Ms Murphy.

“Children are bombarded with advertising for food that offers poor nutrition and threatens their health. It undermines the influence of parents who are trying to encourage healthy eating patterns. Companies have the skills, market research, cartoon characters and aggressive marketing techniques to influence and manipulate children’s food choices and prompt them to pester their parents to buy desirable but unhealthy foods.”

The Obesity Action Coalition would like to see substantial restrictions on how unhealthy foods are marketed and promoted, especially to children.

“We don’t want a total ban on food advertising – as it can also be used to promote healthy food,” says Ms Murphy. “If advertising were only used to promote healthy food it could help prevent obesity, many obesity-related diseases like diabetes and some cancers, and ultimately provide savings to tax-payer funded health services.”

ENDS

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