Advertisements! I hate how they have ad breaks just when whatever I'm watching is at its most interesting stage. But right now I'm talking about them for a completely different reason, though. I recently read that the Centre for Science and Environment is calling for a ban on celebrities advertising food that is high in sugar. This of course makes me wonder whether advertisements have such a huge influence on consumption patterns that we need that kind of ban.
If parents are just as influenced by advertising and celebrity endorsements, who's going to take care of our kids?
According to a 2013 study conducted in the United Kingdom, food that is high in fat, salt and sugar, is marketed to kids using promotional characters and fun themes. The study found that these ads caused significant increases in the consumption of such food, especially among overweight and obese kids. It also found a relationship between enhanced carb and fat intake and kids who watched the most television.
Another study, conducted in the United States, recommended that using cartoon characters, celebrity endorsements, advertising in schools, health claims on food packaging, and stealth marketing be either restricted or banned altogether.
My first reaction, after reading these studies was something on the lines of "it's the parents' job to make sure their kids eat right." But what if the parents themselves are also influenced by this type of advertising and endorsements? According to a 2011 study of the effect of nutrient claims or sports celebrity endorsements on energy-dense-nutrient-poor-food (EDNP), parents perceive these products to be more nutritious than if the claims or endorsements were absent. The same study also made a more worrying finding—56% of parents who were part of the study, when asked to choose between an EDNP product and a healthier alternative, did not read the nutrition information of the products before making their decision.
So if parents are just as influenced by advertising and celebrity endorsements, who's going to take care of our kids? Childhood obesity is a growing problem, not just in the West, but even here in India. A 2016 study, published in the Indian Journal of Medical Research, found that 19.3% of children and adolescents were either overweight or obese since 2010, compared to 16.3% between 2000 and 2005. The study also pointed out that the rise in obesity among children and adolescents was not restricted to higher socio-economic sections of society, but is also prevalent among lower socio-economic groups.
EDNP products are a consumer safety hazard, and ensuring food safety is a regulatory responsibility of the government.
This is where the government has to step in. We have regulations for advertising tobacco and alcohol, then why not EDNP products as well? EDNP products are a consumer safety hazard, and ensuring food safety is a regulatory responsibility of the government. Based on the research available, I have to agree with the CSE recommendation for a ban on celebrity endorsement of EDNP products. Also, celebrities themselves must be responsible enough to recognise the influence they have over people, and avoid endorsing such products. We all have a duty to keep our kids safe and healthy, right?