August 8th, 2009

TV Ads and Childhood Obesity

By Mag Cruz Hatol
Manila Bulletin (Philippines)

It is becoming commonplace to hear about kids suffering from diabetes, even high blood pressure. Media is a likely culprit. Irresponsible advertising is equally culpable.

One would wish that the following scenario happening in many parts of the world would also be true in the Philippines.

There is a growing number of broadcasting companies, children’s program producers and governments worldwide who have begun taking a serious look at TV ads that peddle junk and which air during hours traditionally assigned for kiddie programs.

Furthermore, the movement is beginning to confront a vast number of TV shows that slyly use cartoon characters and mascots, a technique that blurs the line between the commercial advertising and the shows themselves. It is common knowledge that children, especially those in tender years up to nine, are unable to differentiate fantasy from reality and are too vulnerable and unprepared to become smart consumers.

If the movement hits the Philippines, expect a hue and cry against such seemingly patently innocuous programs like “Bi and Bo’’ as well as “Jollitown,’’ two colorful shows targeting little children but sponsored by well-known food companies.

SHOW SAYS ‘NO JUNK FOOD’

Among the more recent radical developments

include that of Discovery Kids which has started to insist on a no junk food ad policy in its South American stations. Discovery Channel’s younger network also airs in Asia and countless kids from Bahrain to Bangladesh, Pakistan to the Philippines tune in to it.

Even the revered Sesame Street has toned down its popular Cookie Monster song. The line, “C is for Cookie” has been replaced with “A Cookie is a Sometimes Food. “

There is increasing debate about the morals of junk food advertising during children’s shows, and we await with bated breath when the long delayed movement would finally reach Philippine shores.

What is particularly alarming is not so much the volume and increasing frequency of junk food ads on television but that authorities expected to take up the cudgels for the parents like DepEd, DOH or even BFAD have not convinced fastfood companies and food manufacturers to consider coming up with alternative and healthier foods targeting Pinoy kids. While America is offering downsized or more dietary correct menus, our fastfood chains are going the wrong direction, pushing for upsizing beverages, fried items and others.

In Dubai not too long ago, its national press club staged a seminar to discuss the role of media in fighting obesity among UAE children. The UAE ministry of health was part of the effort and so was UNICEF. They all succeeded in enlightening the attendees on the various hazards and psychological impact of obesity among kids, first by removing many deep-seated misconceptions, among them chubbiness being an indicator of good health. No less than the UAE government led by its ruler lent its imprimatur on the seminar so that the Arab society can finally sensitize itself about obesity in children.

The consequential move in UAE now is to regulate TV ads targeted at kids and to enlarge the scope of regulatory mechanisms which only previously included tobacco and alcohol.

In the end, the UAE seminar concluded that “the media have a big role in sensitizing the society on the perils of obesity among the tiny ones. It is a mission too important to be left to some organizations and government bodies alone.”

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