Monday, March 4, 2013
Ontario: Ban junk food advertising to kids?
If the trend continues it's estimated that by 2040, 70% of todays kids will become overweight adults, according to the Ontario report (Healthy kids panel report).
The Ontario government has set a goal to reduce childhood obesity by 20% by 2017.
In addition to education for current and possibly to-be parents, school nutrition programs, and other health initiatives, the report has some contentious recommendations:
Ban the marketing of junk food to children under age 12
Ban point-of-sale promotions (junk food typically displayed at the till of retailers)
To be fair many of the 35 recommendations in the report are pretty reasonable, promoting the basics of healthy living.
So what about these bans.. will it work?
I completely understand this recommendation. There have been many times where in a state of frustration I've mumbled cantankerously about how crazy it is that the open and agressive marketing of unhealthy food is so prevalent.
What is the point of making food that is only unhealthy? Who actually needs 100% or more of their sodium and half their calories for the day in one serving?
We know this stuff is factually bad for our health yet we make it and buy it in large quantities, smiling all the way.
Are we whistling past the graveyard? Worse. We're whistling while lying in the grave having dirt thrown on us. We spit out the dirt so we can make room for another donut while giving a thumbs up.
Is that some fancy embellished fear-mongering by myself being a bought and sold healthy living advocate?
I think that our health is undervalued. That's why we choose to do so many unhealthy things.
It seems to me the sense of personal responsibility for our basic health is more and more being replaced by the lure of instant gratification of food and liesure along with the belief that health conditions happen to 'other people'.
So here we are at the till. There is junk food there, cleverly advertised, and made to stimulate reward centers in our brains making us want more of it.
Did the customer put the effort and money into this advertising and product development? No, the company selling the product did. Thats is their doing, or their 'fault', if you will.
Take this away and there will be less opportunity to buy this junk. Makes sense.
What about the parent though? Is the parent capable of saying, "no"? If a parent decides to buy junk food and feed it to their children, are the parents involved in that process; or is that all on the company selling the junk food?
There's a reasonable counter to that. Eating junk food changes brain chemistry, substantially increasing the desire to seek out more junk food, to the point of interfering with reasoned judgment. So while personal responsibility ought to be front and centre, we need to recognize that once hooked on junk food, exercising personally responsibility is impaired. And yes, food companies know this.
Still, the way out of junk food addiction is to practice being mindful, becoming more educated, and personally re-establishing self control, sometimes with professional help.
Wouldn't someone who really wants junk food simply go to the junk food section of the store instead of waiting on the impulse buy section? Yes, but I suppose the idea is that without the impulse buy, less overall will be bought.
I feel that junk food, to the extent that it exists today is contemptible. As strongly as I feel about this, I'm not sure that a ban is necessarily a significant part of the solution to the obesity epidemic. I've managed to overcome overeating myself, no government ban was needed.
I do think there should be some reason based limitations on what can be sold though. I mean, how far are we going to take this? What constitutes being not-ok? So far more than 100% of what we need for a whole day in one or two servings is somehow thought to be acceptable. I think a reasonable line has to be drawn somewhere, and that line has to be lesser than what it appears to be now.
What about the percentage of the population of children who are not overweight? What is happening in these families?
Research shows that parents who practice healthy living lead by example and their kids tend to be a healthy weight.
It would seem then, that despite the efforts of advertisers, some parents and kids are doing just fine and not giving in to the trend.
OK, but there are situations where despite a healthy eating environment in the home, some children for whatever reason, develop their own eating habits, different than those of their parents, despite their parents best efforts. So it isn't always the parents that are 100% to blame either.
Still, it doesn't hurt to put more emphasis on personal responsibility. If consumers change their buying habits, rejecting junk food, I think we'll see junk food making up less of the product isles.
I think an effective way to show a company they are making an unacceptable product is to not buy it, instead of banning it.
It's more important to adapt healthy living standards personally than it is to put all the blame on food companies, or on the government for not having enough bans.