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Obese adolescents & children advert susceptible

Obese adolescents and children susceptible to advertising messages

A third of young adolescents are overweight or obese according to the results of the National Children’s Nutrition Survey published today.

Close to 27 percent of 5 – 6 year olds are over a healthy weight but the figure climbs to nearly 34 percent in the 11-14 year old group.

Overall the nutritional status of younger children is better than that of older children and younger children are more likely to be of a healthy weight.

In the foreword of the report the Minister of Health and Prof Jim Mann of Otago University point out that parents have more control over what small children eat. As children get older, more independent and eat away from home more often, parental control declines. The Minister and Prof Mann suggest the wide range of food choices, peer pressure and advertising are responsible for the decline in the nutritional status of the older children.

The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) congratulates Mrs King for highlighting this issue. “Many in the food industry cite parental responsibility as the cause of, and solution to childhood obesity without any acknowledgement of the pressures advertising puts on both parents and children.” says Celia Murphy, Executive Director of the OAC.

Estimates suggest that for every one dollar spent by the WHO trying to improve the nutrition of the world’s population $500 is spent by the food industry promoting processed food. In a New Zealand study carried out in 1999, 60 percent of the advertisements for food shown during children’s TV viewing times were for high fat, high sugar foods and drinks.

“OAC strongly supports restrictions being placed on the advertising of high fat, high sugar foods and drinks.” says Ms Murphy. “So much of the advertising for food containing few nutrients but lots of energy (calories) is directed at children and young people.”

“It isn’t just the TV ads that bother OAC,” says Ms Murphy. “Sponsoring children’s sports activities and school programmes is an insidious way of getting brand names into the children’s minds and convincing them these foods are a normal part of life when in fact they should only be occasional treat foods.”

Industry and advertisers claim sport and education sponsorship is a responsible way of supporting the community and getting children more active.

Ms Murphy says “It is admirable to try and get children more active but linking activity with high fat, high sugar foods and drinks is counter productive. We don’t want to ban the advertising of foods to children – the last thing we want is to stop good, healthy options being presented to children but we think there needs to be restrictions on the advertising of high fat, high sugar foods and drinks. Just restricting advertising of these foods won’t solve the obesity problem on its own but it will help. There are a host of other things that need to happen at the same time.”

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