In a new report on food marketing, WHO Europe points out that even though junk food has been linked to obesity-related health issues, companies use new technology to target these kind of products to kids. “Children are surrounded by ads urging them to consume high-fat, high-sugar, high-salt foods, even when they are in places where they should be protected, such as schools and sports facilities,” Zsuzsanna Jakab, the director of the WHO’s regional unit for Europe, explained.
WHO tracked advertising for sugary drinks, sweetened breakfast cereals, cookies, candy, snacks, and fast food outlets. The agency found that television is still the most common medium for these ads, and notes that children are especially vulnerable to that strategy because they cannot always distinguish between advertisements and cartoons like adults can. WHO explains that, since food corporations know how to exploit children’s interests by using their favorite cartoon characters to market their products, kids are “particularly receptive and vulnerable to messages that lead to unhealthy choices.”
Most of WHO’s European member nations have already signed a pledge to prevent food companies from marketing to kids, but the United Nations agency believes there need to be more specific, comprehensive guidelines to make the effort successful. The WHO report points out that this is a crucial part of combating childhood obesity.
Here in the United States, a staggering 80 percent of teens are on their way to developing heart diseases because their diets are too high in salt, sugar, and fat. Nevertheless, the FDA has lagged behind when it comes to cracking down on food and beverage companies’ advertising practices. Fast food companies continue to aggressively market their products to children, particularly low-income children of color.
Some companies have pledged to take it upon themselves to stop marketing junk food to kids. Walt Disney Co, for example, has decided it will no longer accept these kind of advertisements on its television, radio, and online programs. But some of the biggest culprits, like McDonald’s, won’t admit they have an advertising strategy that relies on selling unhealthy products to children. “We don’t sell junk food,” McDonald’s CEO claimed just last month, when he was confronted by a nine-year-old girl who asked him why he continued to market fast food to kids like her.