FOOD ADVERTISING AND THE BATTLE AGAINST CHILDHOOD OBESITY
Healthy eating has become ever more mainstream as people pay increasing attention to health, nutrition and food sustainability. Naturally, issues like obesity have been given more attention, especially as it affects children – and is now seen as a serious medical and social problem impacting both children and adolescents’ general health, development, and both physical and psychological wellbeing.
In 2016, over 340 million children and adolescents worldwide – aged 5 to 19 – were estimated to be obese. And for the most recent update, in 2019, 38.2 million children under the age of 5 are estimated to be obese. Preventing childhood obesity has become an international public health priority.
One area that is currently recognized as a challenge to prevent childhood obesity is the exposure of unhealthy foods and diets in digital marketing. Since now children have more access to screens, they are also more likely to be exposed to these ads, and many are concerned about the influence it will bring to their health and wellbeing.
Children’s media consumption shift
There has been a shift in children’s media consumption habits, especially now, as more millennial parents struggle to figure out “the right way” to let their kids access media content. Children’s media is no longer dominated only by TV screens like in the old days. Now children typically also use more mobile devices like smartphones and tablets given to them by their parents.
Children are getting a lot more screen time as parents found few other ways of keeping their children engaged and quiet. Globally, children spent an average of approximately 15 hours per week online – more reason to understand where they spend their digital time and to pay more attention to the content they are consuming about food and eating.
Children’s media protection
For food advertising on TV, there are already clear guidelines to follow and strict regulations in many countries about what can be broadcast and when. Advertisers need to pay attention to the marketing content and techniques used when targeting children – especially where broadcast is concerned.
Digital marketing and media are catching up fast – and in many markets around the world regulation and data protection laws are there to safeguard the targeting of children and the kind of content that can be served to them. However, there are many cases where brand safety is not always as strict as it should be – often where children may be using parents’ devices to watch content, or where they are using platforms or online channels that are not specifically designed with children in mind.
There is already some progress being made to regulate unhealthy food advertising for children. The WHO first made regulations for the food industry in general, to restrict the marketing content of unhealthy foods – that are high in sugar, salts, and fats – especially if those foods are for children. Many social media platforms are already setting their minimum age requirements to 13 years old. And for the most recent progress, in October 2020, Google Ads started to reinforce their newest regulation – to restrict the advertising of High Fat Sugar Salt (HFSS) Food and/or Non-Alcoholic Beverages (F&B) for minors.
While now we may have regulations on what content is appropriate for children online, it is still a challenge and should be an on-going process to keep track of what content they are actually exposed to.
To know more about our experience in media consumption and children & parent research, please contact Rob.