If you’ve been bombarded with adverts for fast food restaurants, chocolate bars, burgers, soft drinks, sweets and crisps, as you sit down to enjoy a spot of TV in the afternoon and early evening, then you’ll know how hard it is to keep your mind on healthy thoughts.
For anyone on a diet, or trying to get fit – the constant stream of subliminal snack food messages on TV is a hard one to get rid of. Ever found yourself humming the jingle for a burger advert whilst you are out running or working out in the gym?
It’s no wonder then that there’s been a call for a pre-watershed ban on adverts for junk foods. If adults can’t switch off from these clever campaigns, then it’s certain that children will be sucked into the fast food industry’s marketing mind-games.
Children are easily led. Give them a choice of salad or chips and they’ll go for the chips. The food industry is taking advantage of this by making them become brand-loyal at a young age, ingraining into them their jingles and their logos.
With Britain fast catching up with America in the obesity stakes, then it’s vital we do something sooner rather than later to encourage our children to live healthy lifestyles – and right now, the messages are unclear. It is estimated that without intervention, nine out of ten adults, and six in ten children will be obese by 2050. And it’s no wonder, with ad campaigns from the Government one minute telling us to eat our five a day, and the next minute being fed messages about how eating cheeseburgers and crisps is the coolest thing to do - no doubt there’s a free toy thrown in there somewhere as well.
Although steps have already been taken to try and stem the flow of junk food ads reaching children, with the broadcasting regulator Ofcom bringing in a ban on the advertising of foods containing high levels of fat, salt, or sugar during children’s programming hours, it’s just simply not enough. A loophole that allows for adverts relating to high fat, sugar and salt content foods to be shown during talent shows and soaps has allowed children to be sucked in to this dangerous campaign.
Health groups hope that by introducing a pre-watershed ban on junk food ads, that’s anything before 9pm, children will be less affected by this kind of advertising, and they hope that this will be supported by the Government.
What’s especially frustrating for those who are of a healthy mindset is that there doesn’t appear to be an even balance between the junk food ads and those that promote healthier foods and drinks. Can you remember any jingles about fruit and veg, or an ad campaign for heading to the gym?
With so much money behind them, often these fast food industry leaders can afford to saturate the market with their messages. And by playing on a healthy image, very often adults and children alike are given false messages, making them believe that a burger or deep fried chicken is a better option than a salad.
But will banning these adverts before 9pm make a difference? It should help, surely. The amount of television that we watch as a nation means that many of these ads are ingrained into our psyche, and we have a responsibility to protect our children from messages that ultimately will affect their health right into their adult lives.
Right now the junk food industry is self regulated – it’s no wonder we are made to believe that a burger or a pizza is far healthier than it actually is. The companies trying to sell them aren’t going to tell us their products are a heart attack waiting to happen.
The Government needs to step in. Think about the smoking ban and how enforced regulation has prevented many thousands more cases of heart disease and lung cancer. Why is the issue on junk food any different? Should our children be made to believe that a burger a day is a healthy way to eat?
With one million morbidly obese people in Britain and the problem getting worse, it seems perverse that complete bans on junk food ads haven’t been introduced earlier. We don’t advertise tobacco on TV, alcohol can only be advertised after the watershed, so why is junk food allowed to pervade into our lives so unregulated?
We are in the midst of an obesity epidemic with huge challenges facing the country on how to re-educate a nation on the ways of healthy living. Rather than smoking-related illnesses crippling the NHS it now looks like it is being brought to its knees by diet related ill-health.
Surely the first step to beating this enormous problem is to start with our children. By teaching them healthy ways of living and not confusing them conflicting food messages, hopefully in the future we will be a healthier nation, looking to find solutions to less health-destroying issues.
by Jessica Ward
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