Governments and many influential health advocates around the world are raising alarm about the emergence of childhood obesity as a health pandemic. As a result, governments and non-government advocates are leading the charge to pin down the unrelenting rise of the prevalence of childhood obesity, including efforts geared at cracking down marketers believed to be the main culprit.
According to the World Heart Federation, there are an estimated 155 million children who are overweight worldwide including the 30-45 million in the same age group who are obese. It is thus not surprising then for the World Health Organization which projected that there would be 70 million obese infants and young children by 2025 to label childhood obesity as one of the most serious public health challenges of the current century (Jolly, 2011).
Researchers and social policy interventions have been working very hard to initiate and maintain strategies geared at promoting and encouraging eating healthy foods and keeping healthy eating habits. However, the availability of cheaper, pre-packaged foods high in fat, sugar and salt, which often receive promotion in large or multiple serving sizes, present a challenge for individuals and policymakers to adopt a healthy eating lifestyle. Other researchers, however, further argued that the explosion of marketing and advertising of fast-food and junk foods are aggravating the challenge to influence peoples food preferences and consumption patterns (Jolly, 2011).
In light of the foregoing, this paper explores the extent through which advertising and marketing are luring people to consume fast-food items, particularly their influence to the eating habits of children of food items from fast-food franchises like McDonalds using available materials proving some researchers findings and observations. Other questions that this paper keenly explores include the extent that consumers can control or temper their cravings or have a choice for their food choices.
The Power of Advertising and Marketing
Many companies are no longer just using advertising to communicate specific information about the products. The emphasis of marketing messages, she argues, has been more about the social and symbolic uses of products, which means consumers are enticed to gain something in return, such as gratification from consumption (Jolly, 2011).
Hence, social theorists John Harms and Douglas Kellner posit that companies today use advertisement to shape consciousness and behaviour by legitimising some forms of ideas while de-sanctioning others. What happens, in turn, is that advertisement help food franchises evoke certain systems of meaning, prestige, and identity, through symbolically associating their products to certain lifestyles, symbolic values, and pleasures that then work to influence consumer behaviour and purchasing (Harms & Kellner n.d.).
Another leading insight on the use of advertising to promote and market products is by renowned social critic Ben Bagdikian. His theory suggests that program content are shaped by the audience demographics, which in turn render the former less relevant than the type of person being directed by advertising and marketing during programs. In programs such as Big Brother and Survivor, content are dumb down to shift their consumers buying mood (Bagdikian, 2000).
Healthy Food Choices: Who is in Control?
Can we blame fast food companies like McDonalds for the continued rise in the rate of obese and overweight children? Some researchers have investigated phenomenon such as pester power that companies exploit to influence the buying behavours of children. According to MediaSmarts (2016), pestering or nagging are used by children to demand their parents to purchase items or products such as McDonalds Happy Meals.
Divided into two categories, pestering can either be persistence or importance. Children are finding importance nagging more helpful for their purpose unlike persistent nagging. This is because parents would rather not be the bad guy who will not provide the best for their kids. Also, advertisers use importance nagging approach because they know well that when parents feel bad not having time for their children, they will give in to the demands of their children. In effect, these pestering approaches undermine the authority of parents (MediaSmarts, 2016).
As companies use mixed platforms for advertising their products to persuade and influence their customers purchasing choice, the challenge seem to grow even more complicated to hurdle. As many studies have found out about their consumers ability to resist the urge to buy some products, the contrary is often true for children. Children at age two may already have a belief about a particular brand and their two to six years old peers can already recognize familiar brand names, packaging, logos and characters and associate them with products, and so on and so forth.
The outcome of this brand awareness and recognition are said to translate to nagging for a particular product (Robinson, et. al., 2007). The parents, meanwhile, can be the mediator in regulating what food choices to allow their children to consume. However, as sometimes is the case, advertising uses approaches that would render the children as responsible consumers who can then display well-defined preferences about TV programming (Berg, 2008).
The practice of child-directed marketing of childrens food is of critical concern across the world. Researchers and policymakers pointed out the grave extent through which food marketing can influence childrens food preferences, food choices, diets and health.
In a Healthy Eating Research Center of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations research on food marketing, it revealed that U.S. food and beverage companies allot some nearly $2 billion for marketing its products to children, where the promotion of less healthy foods and drinks getting the majority of these expenditures (Otten 2014). One in particular is McDonalds that spent $55-60 million in advertising in 2008. It is then no wonder that a diverse group of parents, health advocates, policymakers, and politicians are pointing their fingers to fast-food industry to be the leading culprits for the obesity epidemic.
However, the advertising industry can also be accounted for in the blame game for the tremendous increase in obesity globally. These marketing outfits, which companies approach to do commercials and advertisements, use their customer research and creativity when implementing their marketing tactics to ensure that children would prefer their clients food products and would encourage these children to pester their parents to buy unhealthy products, such as McDonalds.
The government also plays a crucial role in ensuring that fast food marketing and the availability and sale of unhealthy food products are carefully and strictly monitored and regulated. It seems that national governments are not doing much to ensure that companies like McDonalds are discouraged through higher taxes and more regulatory barriers to advertise and sell their products to children until careful consideration to food standards and nutritional value are adopted.
Furthermore, increasing social marketing and education must be adopted to ensure that people are well-oriented and aware about the consequences of being obese and overweight to the physical health, psychological condition and mental condition of a person. Hence, it is of much importance that the government is able to balance so many complex issues arising out of these complex issues, such as protecting children from manipulation and exploitation by companies and advertising companies, rights of companies to trade their products lawfully, and the divergent perspectives of different societal groups.
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