Pestering Parents: How Food Companies Market Obesity to Children


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This reflected an overwhelming tendency to view advertising for unhealthy foods as a negative force to be reckoned with, in addition to a desire for societal-level modifications to the advertising environment. The following extracts demonstrate the intensity of feeling that was evident in some of the responses:. It annoys me that big profits are put ahead of children's health.

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These concerns appeared to be derived from a perception of substantial adverse effects of such advertisements on their children:. Therefore it has a strong influence on her. I hate all the advertising directed at children, it is the main reason our kids are so unhealthy. Even when we refuse to buy our kids these unhealthy snacks, they will get their hands on them one way or the other. Promotional efforts by fast food restaurant chains, especially those including toys to incentivize food purchase, were considered to be particularly insidious:.

My child will often ask for particular fast foods because they come with a toy, even though he actually enjoys other food more. That really annoys me. Several different but related suggestions for appropriate methods of addressing the problem of unhealthy food advertising at the policy level were nominated.

Pestering Parents: How Food Companies Market Obesity to Children (Pages 1-13)

I wish that the ads would include the nutritional value or lack of. These kids need to know exactly what they are eating. They are not as stupid or as dumb as you think! The second suggestion was for the sheer quantity of advertisements to be addressed to reduce the level of exposure among both children and their parents:.

Some ads should be banned from children's programs as some children and their parents are impressionable. This is leading to obesity in childhood for sure. Fast food ads should be banned from prime time TV. Children should not be targeted during their shows with lollies candy and fast food, especially since these programs run just before dinner time. Fourth, there were also calls for the complete banning of advertisements for unhealthy foods, regardless of time of screening:.

We would like to see junk food advertising limited by Government, even banned entirely. In terms of respondent attributes, those parents making comments aligned with this quadrant were more likely than others to be overweight or obese and to be heavy television viewers. This group of parents may experience particular problems ensuring that their family consumes a healthy diet, as evidenced by their own weight status. Their extensive television viewing may make them more vulnerable to the repetition effects of advertising that can result in greater preference and choice simply through repeated exposure [ 51 ].

One in five respondents took additional time when completing an already lengthy survey to provide specific input relating to their views on the nature of food advertising and how it could or should be addressed. The opt-in nature of the open-ended question and the tendency for the large majority of those electing to respond to this question to discuss issues relating to food advertising indicate that the topic was of considerable interest to these parents.

The high proportion of women choosing to add further comment is consistent with previous research demonstrating that women are generally more willing than men to participate in research [ 52 ]. A key finding of the study was an apparent lack of awareness of forms of food promotion targeting children other than television advertising.


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A lack of awareness of the extent and effectiveness of other forms of marketing prevents parents from contributing to public discussions of these issues and hence reduces their ability to influence outcomes. In particular, it seemed that those respondents who were overweight or obese and spent more time watching television were more likely to express views that indicated a low locus of control relating to the influence of advertising on their children.


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  • The relationship between amount of television exposure and diet quality and obesity has been well-established [ 54 ],[ 55 ], with potential causes including higher levels of sedentary activity and greater exposure to advertising for unhealthy foods among those watching more television [ 54 ].

    The present study adds to these previous results by providing insight into the views of overweight parents who are heavy television viewers. As demonstrated by Quadrant 4, these parents may feel unable to cope with the competing pressures, including food advertising, that adversely affect their ability to ensure that their children and they themselves consume a healthy diet.

    A substantial proportion of the population is therefore likely to possess the attributes associated with the low locus of control that is characteristic of Quadrant 4.

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    The findings of the present study support those of other recent work that demonstrates that these assumptions are unfounded [ 32 ],[ 58 ], and hence highlight the need to provide appropriate policy-level support for parents. This is not a failure of individual will-power.

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    This is a failure of political will to take on big business. This prevented them from identifying a need for community-level responses. They also seemed to lack an appreciation of the effects of food advertising on the social norms that influence the broader social environments in which their children are immersed [ 10 ]. Positive deviance occurs where some individuals or organizations are able to adapt to changing circumstances in ways that are more effective than those employed by their peers [ 61 ].

    By observing these adaptive behaviors and promoting them to the broader community, there is the potential to improve outcomes at the population level [ 62 ]. The strategies nominated by parents in Quadrant 1 are largely reflected in the child-feeding recommendations in the nutrition literature [ 63 ], and hence are likely to constitute a suite of behaviors that are appropriate for inclusion in parent education interventions. As such, efforts may be needed to encourage a further form of positive deviance that involves parents actively seeking more extensive policy action in this area.

    However, there is a vast disparity in current levels of unhealthy food advertising relative to healthy food advertising [ 25 ], which suggests that the scale of investment required to off-set current levels of unhealthy food promotion is likely to be insurmountable for governments and producers of healthy foods. A limitation of the present study is the reliance on qualitative data from an open-ended question in a quantitative survey.

    The use of Pester power by companies in food marketing & its impact on children’s health

    In addition, the content of the preceding items in the survey relating specifically to food advertising are likely to have primed the qualitative responses to the open-ended question. However, the similarity in sample profiles, with the exception of gender, and the large sample for a qualitative study provide some assurance of the integrity of the data. This approach facilitated the identification of two primary themes and four resulting classifications of parents according to their attitudes to food advertising, their perceptions of their level of control over the effects of food advertising, and their personal characteristics.

    Future research could seek to assess the extent to which the segments identified in this research are evident in the broader community. Obes Rev. BMC Public Health , Katan MB: Weight-loss diets for the prevention and treatment of obesity. New Eng J Med. Int J Obesity. A retrospective summary. Soc Issues Pol Rev.

    Australia: The Healthiest Country by Marketing of Food and Non-alcoholic Beverages to Children. Zimmerman FJ: Using marketing muscle to sell fat: the rise of obesity in the modern economy. Annu Rev Publ Health. Effects on eating behaviour and food preferences in children. WHO; Econ Hum Biol. Public Health Nutr. Am J Public Health. Appetite , doi J Pediatr.

    Chapman K, Kelly B, King L: Using a research framework to identify knowledge gaps in research on food marketing to children in Australia.

    Children are vulnerable

    Hawkes C, Lobstein T: Regulating the commercial promotion of food to children: a survey of actions worldwide. Int J Pediatr Obes. Med J Aust. Am J Prev Med.


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    • To help prevent childhood obesity we need action on TV junk food advertising.
    • J Health Commun. Pediatric Clin North Am. Int J Behav Nutr Phy , J Child Media. J Public Health Pol. Wong G, Pawson R, Owen L: Policy guidance on threats to legislative interventions in public health: a realist synthesis.

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      Pestering Parents: How Food Companies Market Obesity to Children Pestering Parents: How Food Companies Market Obesity to Children
      Pestering Parents: How Food Companies Market Obesity to Children Pestering Parents: How Food Companies Market Obesity to Children
      Pestering Parents: How Food Companies Market Obesity to Children Pestering Parents: How Food Companies Market Obesity to Children
      Pestering Parents: How Food Companies Market Obesity to Children Pestering Parents: How Food Companies Market Obesity to Children
      Pestering Parents: How Food Companies Market Obesity to Children Pestering Parents: How Food Companies Market Obesity to Children
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