1 The ‘advertised diet’
One of the defining features of the world today is a high level of obesity among children worldwide. This is not only in countries such as the UK, where nearly a third of children aged 2–15 are overweight or obese, but also in the rest of the world, where obesity is rising rapidly. This includes countries where malnutrition is also found. Obesity brings risks to health and mental health through childhood and the rest of life.
This rapid rise in obesity is thought to be caused by environmental factors. This is because obesity has risen recently and rapidly. Among these environmental factors are:
- how food is produced and processed
- poverty that makes it challenging to afford healthier foods which are more expensive
- urban planning that doesn’t support physical activity or healthy food supply, such as lack of safe walking and cycling options and lack of healthy foods in some parts of cities, and near schools
- living and working conditions that promote stress, job and housing insecurity, and don’t support home food preparation
- interacting with all these factors, the very widespread promotion (marketing and advertising) of unhealthy foods in the media, in shops, on transport, and in sports and entertainment venues, which has been shown to increase children’s unhealthy food preferences, requests, and hence eating (look at the article ).
While you watch the following video, look out for these key points:
The video features two Open University academics, Heather Montgomery and Mimi Tatlow-Golden.
- What does Mimi mean when she talks about an ‘advertised diet’?
- What ages do children start becoming aware of food marketing?
- Why might this be problematic?
Mimi’s research has shown that from their earliest days, children recognise more unhealthy food brand logos than healthy ones (see the article Young children’s food brand knowledge), and this knowledge of food brands increases rapidly from the age of 3 years. Indeed, their knowledge of unhealthy food brands increases earlier than their understanding of which foods are not healthy to eat (see the article ‘Big, strong and healthy’: young children’s identification of food and drink that contribute to healthy growth) – suggesting that advertisers and marketers are communicating with children about food effectively in the earliest years of life.
Children’s ‘advertised diet’ is largely unhealthy – about three-quarters of ads that even very young children see on television are for items such as fast food, sweets, chocolate and other foods high in saturated fats, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and salt, that the World Health Organization recommends should not be advertised to children (see Creative good feelings about unhealthy food). This creates the impression that it is quite the norm for children to eat such foods frequently – when in fact the opposite is what’s recommended. Furthermore, these ads create powerful emotional associations with such foods, with imagery and stories that evoke delicious tastes and aromas, fun, magic, imagination, humour and powerful pleasure. They also often show children running around and playing energetically – creating the impression that these foods are associated with being active and healthy.