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Preventing Childhood Obesity: Health in the Balance
Dietary and other choices influenced by exposure to these advertisements may likely contribute to energy imbalance and weight gain, resulting in obesity (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2004). Based on children’s commercial recall and product preferences, it is evident that advertising achieves its intended effects (Kunkel, 2001; CSPI, 2003; Hastings et al., 2003; Wilcox et al., 2004), and an extensive systematic literature review concludes that food advertisements promote food purchase requests by children to parents, have an impact on children’s product and brand preferences, and affect consumption behavior (Hastings et al., 2003). Indeed, the 2003 RoperYouth Report10 suggests that an increased number of children aged 8 to 17 years are playing central roles in household purchasing decisions related to food, media, and entertainment (Roper ASW, 2003).
Industry has come to view children and adolescents as an important market force, given their spending power, purchase influence, and potential as future adult consumers (McNeal, 1998). Market research from the early 1990s suggests that children’s purchase influence rises with age from $15 billion per year for 3- to 5-year-olds to $90 billion per year for 15- to 17-year-olds (Stipp, 1993). Marketers use a variety of techniques, styles, and channels to reach children and youth, including sales promotions, celebrity or cartoon-character endorsements, product placements, and the co-marketing of brands (Horgen et al., 2001; CSPI, 2003; Hastings et al., 2003; Wilcox et al., 2004).
Research suggests that long-term exposure to such advertisements may have adverse impacts due to a cumulative effect on children’s eating and exercise habits (Horgen et al., 2001; CSPI, 2003; Hastings et al., 2003; Wilcox et al., 2004). Children learn behaviors and have their value systems shaped by the media (Villani, 2001). Just as portrayals in television and film shape viewers’ perceptions of certain health-related behaviors, such as smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol, the messages about consuming certain foods and beverages and engaging in sedentary activities may affect them as well (Hastings et al., 2003; Kaiser Family Foundation, 2004).
A recent report issued by the American Psychological Association (APA) Task Force on Advertising and Children concluded that young children (under the age of 8) are uniquely vulnerable to commercial promotion because they lack the cognitive skills to comprehend its persuasive intent; that is, they do not understand the difference between information and
The 2003 Roper Youth Report, based on a nationwide cross-sectional cohort of 544 children aged 8 to 17 years, was conducted by Roper ASW, a market-research firm. Face-to-face interviews were conducted in children’s homes in 2003 (Roper ASW, 2003).