As we wrote in an earlier blog post, parents are constantly fending off their children’s incessant requests for chips, fruit snacks, sugary cereals, soda, and other unhealthy, nutrient-poor food they see advertised on TV, in grocery stores, and other kid-accessible places.
Given this bombardment, most parents give in to “pester power” or “the nag factor” at some point, what Johns Hopkins University researchers call “the tendency of children, who are bombarded with marketers’ messages, to unrelentingly request advertised items.”
What can parents do, especially in a society that tends to put the burden of junk food on caregivers rather than the corporations who run the advertisements and the celebrities who agree to sponsorships? Here are some suggestions:
• Reduce kids’ exposure to ads. Limit television, cell phone, and computer use, for instance.
• Practice healthy eating behaviors at home, and show children that healthy food can also taste good.
• Work with other parents, schools, and communities to regulate kids’ exposure to junk food. Schools across the country have put healthy lunch programs in place and limited the availability of nutrient-poor foods. Many schools prohibit sales of sugary beverages and have replaced them with healthy drinks, such as water and other no calorie beverages.
• Support laws and policies that limit junk food and promote incentives for healthy foods, as the World Health Organization recently suggested. Some experts have even proposed regulating fast food like alcohol, and research has found nations with stronger government regulation have lower rates of fast food purchases and body mass index levels.
• Change the culture. Speak out against this kind of marketing and point out that parents should not be blamed for all of their children’s food choices, as food and beverage companies play a major role in the products kids see on TV, which foods they request from their parents, and what they buy with their spare change or allowance after school. Corporations are particularly sensitive to cultural change and will respond if they see bad media attention as a business threat.
At the end of the day, a treat is not bad every once in awhile, but today’s children are at risk of becoming the first generation to live shorter lives than their parents. Presently, one-third of children in America are overweight or obese, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This puts them at risk for chronic illnesses later in life, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and sleep apnea. If our kids actually ate all of the junk food and beverages purveyors marketed to them, they would not live the healthy and productive lives we want them to live.