Disney recently committed to banish junk food ads on children's programing. The company plans to only advertise foods that are lower in saturated fat, calories, sodium and sugar. This decision is based on the desire to help in the fight against childhood obesity by helping children eat healthier foods. The question is whether this will have a significant impact on children’s health. Here's my opinion:
Children are easily influenced by commercials
I think that we can all remember a time in our life when we saw a commercial for a certain type of food or toy, and that commercial made us want that item. I even have a memory of really, really wanting those new little “luncheon” boxes full of crackers and cheese. I thought they were special, and after seeing a few commercials demonstrating clearly to my 8-year-old mind the superiority of these lunches, I looked with longing every time we passed them in the grocery store.
While my mother patiently explained how these luncheon boxes were overpriced food items that she regularly gave me in baggies (not a cool box), I couldn’t shake the conviction that they were superior in every way. One time for a special treat, she bought me one. And while I am positive that it was made with inferior cheese and crackers and fruit, I still thought I had struck gold.
Yes, commercials are influential with our children. So, I am positive that commercials selling super-sugary treats are having an effect on our children. For this reason, I am glad to know that Disney is attempting to make better advertising choices for ads directed at children.
However, will it really make a dent in childhood obesity? I don’t think so. Here are a couple of reasons why.
Children will still be on the couch
Part of our problem is not moving enough. Regardless of what is advertised, children are still sitting on the couch when they watch TV. Children should be playing at the park, riding bikes, getting their hands dirty making mud pies, and playing in forts outside. It’s not only healthy for their bodies; it’s healthy for their mental and emotional development. (Besides, have you watched some of the TV shows for children? If you want your children to have a bad attitude towards parents, other friends and siblings, encourage them to watch a lot of TV.)
Companies that can pay for expensive advertising generally aren’t healthy
So, how many local, small-time organic farmers advertise their apples on TV? How many grass-fed beef and pastured chicken farmers sell their wares on the Disney channel? How many organic legume and grain farmers do you see with ads on TV? A big reason why they don’t is because they simply don't make enough money to do big-time advertising. Really, to make that type of profit would mean sacrificing their ideals as local farmers. The type of food I most want my children eating will never be advertised on a big TV channel.
This means that while I appreciate Disney making an effort to change, I expect that most of the ads are still going to be advertising packaged, slightly healthier junk food.
An advertising strategy update doesn’t change parental oversight
Another reason I think that this won’t make a big impact is because parents, while still being pushed and pulled by their children’s desires (often influenced by commercials), are still the ones who control the diet and lifestyle of their children. If parents were allowing their children to eat a lot of junk food and be inactive before, they aren’t going to change because slightly healthier food is advertised on TV. If parents were allowing commercials to dictate their children’s diet before, then there is a mindset change that needs to happen before their children will get healthier. Parents need to individually decide that they need to make steps towards helping their children be healthy because they are the ones who hold the reigns about how they raise their children and what their children eat.
Solutions to childhood obesity?
I am not trying to say that I have all the answers to childhood obesity or childhood health, and I certainly don’t want to be a wet blanket on one company’s efforts. Yet I wonder if this is more of a PR decision.
While it will never solve all of the world’s weight issues, feeding your children a wholesome, homemade diet of pure ingredients (even if it’s not organic), and turning off the TV and enforcing a regular “diet” of childhood play and exercise will make a much larger impact on obesity in children then simply changing the ads on TV. All of these lifestyle decisions need to come from the role models in the family — the parents. Is the weight of our children a childhood problem or a parent problem?
Let us not blame our children's ill health on the ads on TV, but rather take responsibility over our own children’s health. Change is in our hands, not the advertisers' hands.