Should junk food ads be banned before the watershed?

Fast food.

Should junk food ads be banned before the watershed? It’s an interesting question which I’d like to explore.

Without wanting to get involved in political debate, an article caught my attention recently mentioning that the Labour Party have pledged to ban junk food adverts from primetime TV shows like the X Factor until after the 9pm watershed as part of their manifesto pledge to halve childhood obesity within five years. Is this an innovative idea?

Well, perhaps. Campaigners say the existing ban on advertising high sugar, fat and salty foods during programmes aimed at children does not cover the kind of TV that’s popular with youngsters but not specifically aimed at them. The Labour Party have said that the ban would reduce children’s viewing of junk food adverts by 82%.

Fast food companies are without a doubt, out and out commercial machines; they have huge resources and budgets, and the power to employ the best global marketing professionals. These professionals make strategic advertising and marketing decisions based on sophisticated, accurate market research.

Within their marketing teams, every action is analysed in detail and the next move based on this analysis. Common sense says that as there are talented teams of professionals in charge of making the decisions, if what they are doing wasn’t working, they would have stopped doing it by now.

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How do junk food ads affect children?

Research proves that they work very effectively indeed. A study conducted at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society confirmed last year that fast food marketing aimed at children is ‘worryingly successful’. The more exposure kids get to junk food marketing on television (and online) the higher their rate of fast food consumption. That’s a worry for all parents, surely?

So why do I think that junk food ads need to be banned when kids are vulnerable to them? Precisely BECAUSE kids are vulnerable to them. Three main objections spring to mind. The products they are selling, the fact that, arguably they are addictive, and thirdly, because if the consumption of junk food isn’t controlled, it can have a devastating effect on children’s – and adults – lives.

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Let’s just cover these three areas in a little bit more detail.

What are they selling: On the whole, fast food companies sell unhealthy food that is highly processed and low in nutritional value, so of course this is not good. Some of these companies add healthy food choices to their menu, but the healthier choices are limited and in my opinion, a token effort.

The food is addictive: The jury is still out on this one in terms of research and definitive proof, but there are millions of people across the world falling into the obese, morbidly obese and super morbidly obese categories.

Without mincing our words, it’s killing them, and they know it because they are constantly being told by experts and the media talking about it 24 hours seven days a week. Why would anyone continue to commit to a habit which they know is killing them? I don’t want to point out the obvious, but to me, this very much looks like addiction.

The effect: I won’t bore you with the negative effects fast food can have on our lives, but here are just a few of the major ones; cancer, heart disease and diabetes. These three conditions account for millions of deaths across the globe every year.

So… should junk food ads be banned before the watershed?

I think the big fast food companies have answered the question; they keep advertising because it works. The success of their advertising campaigns increases their sales and makes them huge profits so it’s no surprise they continue.

My answer to the question would be, yes, junk food ads should be banned before the watershed, just because they advertise a product that is potentially addictive, very unhealthy and can cause illness to children who pick up the messages and are sucked into the idea of pizza, chicken and burgers as a treat. And they want it.

I’m not being unrealistic. Nobody would suggest that fast food companies should not exist or that they shouldn’t be allowed to sell their products. I’ll let you into a secret; even I eat fast food, and I enjoy it. The difference is that I probably only indulge occasionally. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone.

The bottom line is that junk food advertising is clearly adding to a problem that is affecting health on a global level, and advertising it at a time when young minds can be influenced (pester power) is clearly not helping and borderline irresponsible.

What do you think? Do you believe it would make a difference to kids’ health? Or is it too little, too late? How do you deal with ‘pester power’? Let’s talk about it on the Facebook Page.

Nino Severino

Learn Play Grow Founder



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