Last week I shared a campaign on our Facebook Page, the Stop Marketing To Kids Campaign. Supported by all major Canadian Health Organizations, the campaign asks the Canadian Government to ban food advertising to children under the age of 16.
To me, it’s a no brainer. If we want to give our kids the best chance at a healthy life, we shouldn’t allow corporations to market harmful food products to them. And let’s not kid ourselves; our children’s critical thinking abilities have no chance up against corporate marketing, backed by cutting edge research and millions in funding.
Quite ironically, as I was sharing the campaign on Facebook, Jefferson came over to my computer to show me a new lego creation. He glanced at my screen and saw the thumbnail picture, a bright green cartoon Shrek character on a sugary cereal box. Jefferson dropped his lego on the table and began pointing frantically at the screen saying, “Mom, mom! What is that?! Click on it! Who is that green guy? I love him. Click on it!”
It was too much. I wish I’d caught the interaction on video. Jefferson has never seen Shrek or eaten the advertised brand of cereal. The flashy, brightly coloured and friendly cartoon character alone grabbed his attention and was suddenly far more interesting to him than sharing his lego with me.
Earlier this month Cancer Research UK released a report, confirming my and most parents’ experience of junk food advertising: that it works. The study, Ad Brake: Primary school children’s perceptions of unhealthy food advertising on TV, looked at how junk food advertising can influence young children’s eating habits and food choices. It found that marketing was successful at encouraging children to choose unhealthy food options and to ask their parents to purchase advertised products. “It’s worrying to hear that children associate junk food with having a better time and it’s clear from the discussions that advertising can influence how they eat”, said Dr Jyotsna Vohra, head of the Policy Research Centre for Cancer Prevention at Cancer Research UK.
The good news? What if governments and other organizations used these same commercial marketing techniques to convince kids to eat vegetables? I.e., could we actually use marketing for good? Yes, as it turns out, we can. A recent piece in the New York Times, How to Sell Kids on Vegetables, describes a study in 10 elementary schools where cartoon vegetable characters with ‘super powers’ were marketed to children via banners and TV advertisements. “Where both banners and the TV advertisements were used, the number of students taking vegetables increased by 239.2 percent”.
It’s an interesting concept worth exploring; if marketing in a digital age is inevitable, why don’t we restrict harmful marketing and support helpful – and in this case healthful- marketing?
It’s clear that our current food environment is not a level playing field when it comes to personal choice. It’s a nice idea to think that we’re all able to make the best decisions for ourselves and our families despite outside influences, but given current chronic disease rates, it’s clear that the marketing of processed foods has infiltrated our critical thinking capacity.
An obvious starting point is creating a food environment that supports health sustaining food choices. As Dr. Laura Schmidt points out in her recent TEDMED talk, policymakers have a lot to learn from corporations in how to nudge consumers, young and old, toward healthier behaviours.
So, Canadian friends, what can YOU do? This: Take 30 seconds and Sign the Stop Marketing To Kids Campaign, asking the Canadian Government to take action and ban marketing of junk foods to children.
PS: Thanks for all your wonderful emails and FB messages! It’s exciting to know there are so many other families ready for change in our food environment – for our own wellbeing and our kids’ generation.