Prime Time Food Marketing [2012 Archive]

Yesterday, delegates of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) received guest speaker Dr. Jennifer Harris, the Director of Marketing Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Policy and Obesity at Yale University.

Dr. Harris started her talk with a statistical analysis regarding marketing tendencies and their impact on specific age groups such as children, adolescents, and adults.  She pointed out how companies are advertising more products to adults as policymakers strive to regulate the marketing of products for children.  Moreover, data showed that children and adolescents are being bombarded with advertisements for fast foods and other unhealthy products.

This tendency has resulted in governments exercising more control over food marketing practices.  Various cities in Canada, Norway, and the United Kingdom exemplify this.  In Quebec, Canada, for example, companies cannot advertise to children at all while in the UK there are some guidelines regarding the products that could advertise to youngsters.

Nevertheless, as Dr. Harris stated, legislation is not perfect and government restrictions concerning food marketing practices face tremendous limitations in an increasingly globalized society.  Political will, for instance, poses a huge obstacle to these limitations as food corporations may lobby in order to “kill” any legislation regarding limitations to their marketing practices.  This is the case of the United States, where companies convinced various congressmen to vote against a bill proposing government regulation over advertisement to children.

In addition to these restrictions, there is also a vibrant discussion about what should and should not be considered as advertisement to children.  To illustrate the situation of the debate, Dr. Harris elaborated a description of several age groups in terms of where do they stand regarding self-regulation and analysis of content.  This analysis highlighted the fact that people between two and seventeen years of age are not capable of evaluating the information they receive through advertisements.

Finally, Dr. Harris emphasized that the objective of regulating marketing to children is to reduce the effects on health certain kinds of products may have.  She further pointed out the importance of the role of parents in advising their children regarding the products advertised by mass media because many parents have a rather naïve attitude when it comes to realizing the impact food marketing practices have on their children, especially in a country where 70% of children have a TV in their rooms.

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