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A Critical Analysis of Debates About the Relationship Between Advertising 'junk' Food and Drink to Children and Childhood Obesity

Autor:   •  January 14, 2018  •  Research Paper  •  3,580 Words (15 Pages)  •  418 Views

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Childhood obesity, defined by age- and gender-specific body mass index (BMI) cutoff values that correspond to the adult threshold of 30kg/m2 (Cole, Bellizzi, Flegal & Dietz, 2000), is a major public health challenge faced by countries worldwide, including the UK. The country has seen a dramatic increase in the prevalence of childhood obesity in the last two decades to such an extent that 14% of children aged 2 to 18 are now obese (Conolly, 2016). Although childhood obesity per se is not a disease, it has serious long-term consequences to the individuals and the society (Sahoo et al., 2015). Obese children are likely to remain obese into adulthood, which will put them at an increased risk of developing severe chronic diseases and negative psychological outcomes. This, in turn, places a greater burden on the society with the increased medical costs associated. Hence, tackling the obesity epidemic becomes a major concern for the public and government. The UK government, in response, believed the necessity of passing a legislative restriction on advertising food and drink high in fat, salt or sugar (HFSS), otherwise known as ‘junk’ food, in children’s media as similarly done with the advertising of tobacco. The ‘junk’ food industry has been frequently equated to the tobacco industry by the media with their resemblances beyond the negative health consequences associated with their products (Schor, 2005; Stephens, 2014). Similar to the tobacco industry, the food industry, while uses aggressive marketing strategies directed to children who are more susceptible than adults to the advertised messages, places the responsibility of the consequences on consumers in making the purchases. The popular texts contended that the odds are now stacked against parents as the food industry is bombarding children with ‘junk’ food advertisements that are no longer limited to traditional media as in the past, but through multiple channels that are interactive, such as advergames. This cumulative exposure to the mass lobbying of ‘junk’ food is claimed to have a direct effect on children’s food requests and choices, which adversely impacts their dietary habits and increase their caloric intake, and in turn contributes to childhood obesity (WHO, 2003). This essay seeks to assess these claims made in popular texts about the causal relationship between advertising HFSS products to children and childhood obesity in light of academic research evidence to provide an insight into the effectiveness of the recent legislation on restricting advertising.

Popular texts often argue for a relationship between advertising HFSS products to children and childhood obesity on the basis of the extent and content of these advertisements. This is because they often see the rise of childhood obesity rates being paralleled with an increased dominance of ‘junk’ food advertisements on television and an increased practice of advertising through new media, which

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