Any democratic government has a responsibility to protect the health and wellbeing of its citizens and especially to prevent private interests from exploiting children for private gain or any other reason. This may seem like common sense, but governments around the world, including the U.S. government, have been far too lax in allowing food companies to manufacture, advertise and sell foods for children, though they know it is unhealthy and will lead to serious health consequences in the future.
According to Science Daily, scientists at the University of Liverpool in the UK have shown that children watching TV commercials promoting unhealthy foods (foods with too much fat, salt and sugar) develop a desire to eat these kinds of food in preference to nutritionally healthy alternatives.
The study was conducted on children six to 13 years old who were shown a cartoon after watching five minutes of toy commercials or five minutes of commercials of unhealthy snack foods. The children were then allowed to choose what kind of foods they wanted from lists of healthy and unhealthy foods, including famous brand names and non brand named foods. The children chose significantly more unhealthy foods to eat after the food commercials, but not after the toy commercials.
Emma Boyland, one of the authors of the study, was quoted as saying, “Obesity in young children is now a major health concern around the world. Our studies highlight that there are global connections between advertising, food preferences and consumption. This is a beyond brand effect, increasing children’s selections of all unhealthy foods – not just those shown in the adverts.”
If these conclusions hold up, it means that governments should ban all such advertising aimed at children and indeed ban the production and sale of unhealthy foods entirely. The purpose of food is to provide healthy nutrition to the food consumers, not profits to corporations. It is simply not rational, nor moral, to allow private companies to enrich themselves by making millions of young children around the world unhealthy and obese.
The suggestions from Ms. Boyland are not as strong as those I suggest. She says that limiting TV watching time, for example, might be one solution since only children who watched more than 21 hours of television seem to have been negatively affected by the food commercials. However, reports show that U.S. teens spend about 20 hours a week in screen time (60 percent) but about 30 percent of teens spent 40 or so hours in screen time. I’m sure different countries will have different breakdowns.
In any case, Boyland concludes by saying, “This study demonstrates that children are far more likely to eat unhealthy foods if they watch a lot of television. This suggests that it would be beneficial to reduce the amount of television that children watch. These findings also have implications for the regulation of television food advertising to children. A 9 p.m. watershed should be introduced so that children are not exposed to high fat, high sugar and high salt food advertising during popular family viewing.”
Well, that would be a start, but a government concerned with its people would simply ban all such fake food products in the first place.