Junk Food Laws Just Junk?

There is probably not one day out of the week I am not talking to my kids about nutrition.  I think there is so much in the world that gives children mixed messages, that it is my role and responsibility to prepare them for life and good health.  So, in our house we have standards – not laws – but standards or guidelines about junk food.  Although this is probably not as clear to my husband as it is to me, the kids have learned what is healthy and what is not.  But what about society?  What about rules or laws that the government can impose in schools?  Are they helpful?  What about advertisements and marketing ploys targeted at children? How do these effect health and nutrition?

It should be no surprise to all parents that children are the target of many marketing strategies.  However, did you know that children have been estimated to view 40,000 ads per year on television alone?  Of these, half are related to food! These ads are most likely for sugary cereals and high calorie snack food.  My 9 year old once asked me “Mom, how come there are never any advertisements for healthy food?”  My answer to that is “because it doesn’t make enough money for the large corporations”.  Healthy foods are advertised less than 3% of the time, as reported by Kukel & Gantz (1991). cold bananas

So would making junk food laws help kids to be healthier? Would it really encourage healthier decision-making as they get older?

What we do know is that advertising healthy foods has been shown to increase better eating habits among children ages 3-6 years, as reported by Gorn & Goldberg (1982), but what I wonder is if junk food laws will actually encourage children to make healthier food choices?  My instinct tells me “No”.  It just means that while at school they eat what is there, but when they return home, or out with friends on the weekends they eat what is given to them by their parents.  Teens will make choices based on what happened in their childhood.

A recent study published by Pediatrics studied the BMI (body mass index) of young people and how it relates to Government regulations in supplying nutrition information on food not provided by the school.  I would understand that to be, vending machines and food not ‘served’ by the cafeteria.  So, I’d love to know what my good ole friend Jamie Oliver must think! I would love to see these researchers conduct the same study to see if the children still ate the ‘state supplied food’ when given all the nutritional information.  Even though researchers are excited this is the first real evidence to give hope that laws will impact obesity, I think it’s pretty far from that.  As a parent I need to see more than a  5% improvement, as there are still the remaining 18% of eighth graders that are obese (see this article).

What about all the marketing that influences food choice?  What about demographics of families and how this impacts obesity, and even the children’s ability to read and understand nutritional information provided on the outside of a vending machine?  It’s almost another approach that will continue to keep the poorer children less healthy and more obese.

I understand that children spend a lot of time in school during their lifetime, but they also learn eating habits and choices from their parents.  Obesity is learned in a sense, since it is poor eating habits and poor exercise habits that also contribute.  So will a state law really matter if Johnny returns home to eat pogos and fries for supper and sits on the couch all night?  Children are the most impressionable during the first 6 years of their life, so why not start teaching and guiding them from birth?  Start with promoting breastfeeding (evidence suggests it decreases obesity as well) and then teach healthy eating in daycare centers, and early learning environments AND at home.  Teach parents to teach their children about mindful eating and healthy choices.  Then by elementary school your child won’t be part of the 20% obesity rate.

What do you think?  Do you think laws about food, nutrition or even marketing to children need to be enforced to improve the health of all children?





Cross Referenced from: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/6/2563.full#ref-58

Kunkel D, Gantz W. Television Advertising to Children: Message Content in 1990—Report to the Children’s Advertising Review Unit of the National Advertising Division, Council of Better Business Bureaus. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University; 1991

Gorn GH, Goldberg ME. Behavioral evidence of the effects of televised food messages on children. J Consum Res.1982;9 :200– 205

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