Ban the Junk Food Commercials!

By Sarah Klein

The recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation reignited the debate over how much media exposure is too much when it comes to our kids.

Although ever-present computers, iPods and gaming consoles are a major reason for increased media consumption, the good old TV remains at the top of the list. TV content still accounts for over 40% of all kids' media exposure, nearly two hours a day ahead of the second-place category (music/audio).

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has long recommended that children spend less than two hours a day in front of the TV, citing the risk of obesity as one of the harmful side effects. Now, new research suggests it may not be the time spent watching TV, but the exposure to commercials specifically food and drink commercials that cause kids to pile on the pounds

The theory goes that all the sugary cereals, salty snacks, and fast food that parades across the screen influences our children's food preferences and not in a good way. The researchers noted that on Saturday mornings, kids watching TV see an average of one food commercial every five minutes. Since children are exposed to about 30 hours of food commercials each year, these ads can have a lasting effect.

Conversely, popping in a video or tuning in to commercial-free programming showed no link to obesity, according to the study, published earlier this month in The American Journal of Public Health.

Childcare experts, politicians, and worried parents have proposed various measures to fight childhood obesity, including banning soda and junk food from school cafeterias and vending machines. But regulating commercials has always been a touchy subject, with food and drink associations, fast food companies and the TV networks worrying about what a ban could do to their profits.

But childhood obesity remains a worldwide problem and other countries are responding to the growing evidence. In mid-January, South Korea announced it would ban all commercials for junk food from 5 to 7pm, and during all children's shows. Taiwan followed with its own ban soon after.

The UK pushed for a similar ban on junk food commercials during kids' programming in 2006, and Australia established restrictions in 2004. Sweden, well ahead of its time, banned all advertising aimed at children way back in 1991, and has lobbied for the rest of the European Union to follow suit.

While the U.S. has yet to implement a government-regulated ban on advertising, the new evidence and 2008 research suggesting restrictions could lower the number of overweight children by as much as 18% might mean a ban may be just around the corner.

Comment by Robert M, posted 2/12/2010, 4:22 PM:

If you haven't seen it already, you should see Jamie Oliver's TED talk which deals with this topic. Offers a lot of good insights and ways we could prevent childhood obesity.
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