Could the national obesity epidemic be related to the proliferation of junk food advertising? Next time you are out for a walk or shopping, count the number of fast food advertisements you see. Spend some time watching cartoons and television shows with your children, and you’ll be shocked at the amount of advertising for unhealthy foods, including high-sugar breakfast cereals, candy and from fast food franchises. It is important to understand the full influence of media advertising on our dietary choices.
Because of the volume of food, snack and fast-food advertising, the average American may not even be aware of the subliminal influence of suggestive media on our eating habits. The ‘see and eat’ problem has been researched worldwide, with some not so surprising conclusions, that will have you thinking twice about the source of your hunger pang. Is it a real nutritional need, or perpetuated by powerful subliminal advertising?
Researchers Linking Unhealthy Food Advertising to Poor Nutrition Habits
An interesting new study from the Clinical & Affective Neuroscience Laboratory at Yale University, produced evidence on the effect of exposure to food cues through advertising, and the impact it has on craving and eating behaviors. In the study of over 3,300 American participants and 45 published research papers, a clear link was evident. The more advertising or visual cues an individual receives daily (through online, point of purchase and print), the more a reactive response is created, where Americans were prompted to eat, regardless of whether they felt hungry or not.
Read the report findings in “Food cue reactivity and craving predict eating and weight gain: a meta-analytic review,” by Rebecca G. Boswell and Hedy Kober.
Because we are exposed to so much advertising for food, the immediate natural response is to eat. But if we are not home, and able to cook a healthy meal or prepare a nutritious snack, the stand-by convenience foods and fast food chains benefit from our need, which feeds the industry’s bottom line, while contributing directly to the growing obesity pandemic worldwide.
Another study conducted by the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Psychology, Health & Society, narrowed the focus of the research to television advertising, and media messaging that prompts hunger response. Dr. Emma Boyland, PhD, MBA, MSc, BSc, is a professional lecturer and researching on the subject area, with a focus on the impact of junk food marketing to children. Her findings have prompted a crusade to regulate food advertising to children worldwide, in an attempt to prevent subversive advertising as a response to international issues with child obesity.
The Children’s Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative (CFBAI)
An internationally cooperative organization was founded to help the food industry regulate advertising to children, and to establish controls to reduce subliminal advertising for unhealthy food products to children. More than 18 countries participate in the CFBAI, representing some of the largest food and beverage, and fast-food companies. Partner brands who participate in the Children’s Food & Beverage Advertising Initiative include Nestlé USA, ConAgra Foods, Inc., General Mills, Burger King, The Coca-Cola Company and many more. Despite best efforts, changing industries that make millions from suggestive advertising is a slow, and arduous process. Download the report on partner brands, to learn more about the initiatives undertaken by the CFBAI, and how the industry is working to self-regulate to address the problem.
What Can Parents and Adults Do?
Stay informed about the types of advertising that target unhealthy foods, and be aware of your personal response after being exposed to television, print and online advertising. Monitor what you eat (and when), and pack healthy non-perishable snacks to reduce the temptation to choose unhealthy fast-food or convenience snack options.
Talk to kids about how advertising works! Teach them to be critical thinkers when it comes to suggestive advertising for cereal, snacks, candy and soda beverages. Help them adopt healthy eating habits by scrutinizing the nutritional value of their choices, and encourage healthy alternatives.