We all want our kids eating healthier – and the government seems to agree with us for the most part. Advertising high sugar and fat foods and drinks in TV adverts during kids viewing has been legislated against since 2007…..but the problems is that there are lots of ways around this! For lots of big junk food/drinks companies, the TV ad legislation is just a tiny bump in the road, especially when they have these sneaky moves up their sleeves…

Sneaky move #1

Forget the adverts – just show unhealthy foods and drinks within the programme itself. The legislation covers adverts but not programme content.

Research from 2014 on the frequency and type of food and drink portrayals in children’s TV programs, shown on non-commercial channels (BBC and RTE) identified over 1000 food and drink cues in 80 odd hours of programming. These cues accounted for almost 5% of the total broadcast material with unhealthy foods accounting for close to half of food cues and sugary drinks making up a quarter of drinks cues. The cues were frequently associated with positive factors, seldom with negative outcomes.

Does this make a difference to kids behaviour – well, yes. Why else would manufacturers pay for product placement within programmes? As the researchers say, parents, policy makers, and physicians should be aware of this and ensure that this type of content is balanced by more frequent and positive portrayals of healthy foods and behaviours.

Sneaky move #2

Link your adverts to programmes that aren’t billed as kids programmes but are most certainly watched by lots of them…like the popular, family-orientated talent shows. Guaranteed to reach those impressionable consumers…and you’ve also got their parents right there ready to respond to the requests for the food and drink they are being tempted with. A study in 2011 showed that our kids could be bombarded by up to 11 junk food ads during one hour of family-orientated TV shows, and I can’t imagine those stats have changed all that much!

Sneaky move #3

TV is outdated – any self-respecting kid will be on-line. Luckily, manufacturers are investing in social media and other on-line expertise to target your kids in places you probably don’t know exist! A study by the Children’s Food Campaign, of 100 websites featuring food likely to be bought or requested by kids, found that over 80% of online adverts were associated with foods classed as less healthy and therefore not allowed to be advertised during children’s TV programmes. Yet over 75% featured kid-friendly characters, competitions, downloads and links to social media apps that directly engaged with kids… because the internet regulations don’t prevent our kids being targeted and manipulated in this way.

Watching videos via media channels like YouTube also gives companies the chance to advertise to kids without the pesky problem of TV advertising regulations.

Sneaky move #4

Find yourself a celebrity to promote your product for you. Doesn’t have to be a real one – a cartoon character will do, particularly if it’s one from a popular kids TV show or film. Kids love a celebrity. And if it’s a sports celebrity you have a double whammy! The association with health and fitness will make your product appear healthier too. What a winner!

Action On Sugar is constantly looking at ways we can work to reduce childhood obesity, and pinpoints the issue of celebrity-endorsed junk foods… As they state, “Celebrity endorsement is wrong and gives the wrong message, particularly to children.” Instead, celebs should use their position in a more responsible way, to promote a healthier lifestyle, surely?!

Sneaky move #5

Just pick a national icon and advertise there. Preferably a very large one. Something family-friendly, and seemingly wholesome, with thousands of visitors – like the Coca-Cola London Eye, for example. It will associate your product with fun and warm, fuzzy feelings. Not only that but the tourist board will help with your advertising too!

Sneaky move #6

Freebies. Kids are suckers for brightly-coloured plastic toys – something based on the latest popular TV show or film is usually a winner (think Sneaky move #4). Countries like Brazil have started to fine companies that promote junk food through the use of toys/freebies, but here in the UK, there’s no such penalty that I am aware of.

It goes to show really that our kids are never totally safe from exposure to unhealthy foods and drinks. So be more aware of how they are being targeted and take steps to reduce the opportunities for them to be indoctrinated. If they are old enough, get them to make a game of spotting the tricks that are being used so they are aware of this manipulation. And ensure that you promote healthy messages wherever possible to counteract this pervasive marketing trend. Ultimately, though, we need the government to take this issue much more seriously….though I’m not holding my breath.

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