Junk Food Advertisements and their Influence on the American Diet

Media does play an active role in the current obesity epidemic in America. An average American is constantly connected to technology. That is an avenue for junk food companies to affect health behavior and gain business. Let’s use McDonald’s as an example of a business that uses media to affect healthy eating behaviors. McDonald’s television advertisements featuring celebrity endorsements (third party advocates), or “agriculture experts” rave about all the new healthy options included in their menu. When the reality is a McDonald’s Crispy Chicken Salad has more calories than a Big-Mac. McDonald’s also pays to have their product’s placed into movies in a effort to continue to subconsciously reinforce the desirability of their products.

The fast food chain also recently launched a smartphone app through which you can see the nearest McDonald’s locations, and even order meals. This fast food cooperation is literally making it so that if you see their ads, you can instantly order their food without even any physical effort in-between. McDonald’s has an official twitter, Facebook, and SnapChat account through which they earn unpaid advertisement by having restaurant diners: send pictures, post videos and or comment on their “delicious food”.   McDonald’s also sponsors global sporting events   like the Olympics. How well do McNuggets pair up with exercise? Anyway you slice it, McDonalds’ marketing schemes will get you!

A recent article in Time Magazine examined the possible links between junk/fast food advertisements and their affects on health behaviors. The article cited studies conducted in Japan and the U.K. that have shown: the more a child is exposed to higher-calorie foods/drinks the more likely they are to consume them. Consumption of high- calorie increases risk of children becoming overweight adults, as well developing chronic diseases. The article also interviewed a council member of the American Pedriatics Association, Dr. Victor Strasburger, who stated the fact that an average American child watches 8,000 commercials on T.V. about a variety of foods/drinks. Only 165 of the 8,000 are promoting intake of fruits/vegetables. According to Dr. Strasburger, “Clearly eating behavior changes if you watch a lot of TV”.

A video that offers possible solutions to the commercial epidemic was created by Common Sense Media. The non-profit organization CSM, whose focus is to educate and advocate   “…to families to promote safe technology and media for children,” released an educational video about the dangers and affects of junk food ads on those who are introduced to them. The video advises parents about product placement, celebrity endorsements, and educating their children about looking for subtle plugs for junk foods (online video games sponsored by McDonald’s or sugary breakfast cereals).

The warnings offered in the article, and video are for parents to educate their children about false claims in unhealthy food/drink ads. However, both do not offer any solutions for adults who may not know of the false-hood promoted in subtle or aggressive ads. What are adults who themselves have acquired unhealthy eating habits, or do not know about proper nutrition supposed to teach their children?

-Bushra Raza

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