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Fat free TV?:

Saving the battle of the shopping trolley
By Kathy Chapman
Date: February 01 2012
Editor Rating:

As I get older and more of my childhood memories fade, try as I might, the one thing I can’t forget is the repetitive strains of certain ad jingles. Ads advising that “a mars a day helps you work, rest and play” or “once you pop, you can’t stop” have wormed their way into my psyche, never to be forgotten, even when the product has vanished off our shelves.

Maybe I’m an advertiser’s dream but the fact is advertising influences people. It wouldn’t be used otherwise. But how much is too much? Where do we draw a line? What happens if most of the foods being touted are bound to contribute to weight gain and ill health?

Take junk food advertising to kids, which is, admittedly a bugbear of mine. Children are like sponges, noticing everything. So when it comes to ads, they remember the jingles, the tempting toy offers, and the ‘coolness factor’.

If you don’t believe me, check out this funny little video. 


Look beyond the cuteness factor and the influence of junk food ads upon our children is plain to see.

So children recognise the products advertised and more often than not, they want what they see. Unfortunately they’re not afraid to express what they want, usually at the most inopportune moment, in the middle of the shopping aisle, with the tantrum to end all tantrums. On average, kids pester parents 15 times in every trip to the supermarket and are successful in half of these attempts.

So pester power aside, why is it a problem if your kids recognise the golden arches, clown mascots or which cricketing hero is promoting the latest piece of fried chicken?

Well unfortunately our Aussie kids are not in fact ‘weet-bix kids’, with one in four considered overweight, mostly from poor eating habits. A high proportion of these overweight children will become overweight adults, increasing their chance of chronic disease like cancer and diabetes along the way.

If this is the shape of things to come in our society, do we really want to be surrounding our kids with a glut of enticing junk food ads? If your kids keep seeing McJunk and it becomes their norm, they are less likely to consider healthy alternatives and more likely to go forhigh fat, salt or sugar foods.Of course, this is exactly what junk food advertisers want, as children successfully targeted now will have a brand allegiance for life.  

In fact, the Australian food industry spent more than $400 million on marketing in just 2010. They spend big bucks because it makes them big bucks.

And so it becomes an uphill battle for parents to get their kids to eat healthily.

But like David against Goliath, it is possible for parents to thwart the junk food onslaught.  

This week Cancer Council NSW launched Fat Free TV Guide, an interactive website which allows parents to search over 100 popular TV shows, rating and ranking the best and worst, based on how much junk food is advertised to children.

For example, you might be surprised to learn that Saturday AFL, Saturday night family movie and X-Factor have topped the list, with children exposed to 26 junk food ads for things like chocolate, high energy drinks, and fast food chains over a six hour viewing period. So with this knowledge parents may choose to turn the TV off, record these shows (to skip the ads) or even mute the ads.

Like it or not, we live in a brand driven society and big businesses aren’t going to stop junk food ads without a fight. But now with a little knowledge and help from tools like Fat Free TV parents can start to even the playing field.

As Health Strategies Director for Cancer Council NSW, Kathy is responsible for leading cancer prevention work, focusing on encouraging healthy living. She is passionate about making healthy choices the easy choice for Australians, young and old and she is one of the leading Australian researchers on junk food marketing and pester power. As a qualified nutritionist, she is also a foodie who enjoys cooking for family and friends.

What do you think about the Fat Free TV Guide? Share your views below.....

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Julie F says: 2012 02 02

Interesting We can always just say no when they pester for bad food!

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