The fast-food advertising campaigns are not adequately regulated all over the world despite the continuous advocacy on the same. There has been an increased concern about the negative influence that fast food advertising is likely to have on families around the world. Several researchers have blamed fast food advertising for the continued emergence of the obesity epidemic among children in many families. It is common knowledge to understand that junk food, sodas, and fast foods, in addition to spending lots of time watching television commercials regardless of the negative influence that fast food has on children`s health and wellbeing. Most children are easily influenced by fast-food advertisements since they have no ability to make practical choices and depend on what they see and hear on the television and from their family members who serve as their role models.
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Changes in eating habits of children due to fast-food advertisements
Nowadays, fast food restaurants carry out advertising campaigns for different purposes. These adverts mainly present fast food products as healthy ones, regardless of severe criticism and various studies demonstrating their harmfulness. The major audiences of fast food advertisements are children and students. The ads are presented on the TV, radio stations, billboards, as well as on the pages of youth magazines, etc. Since children are not able to perceive critically what they read or see, they are highly prone to be deceived by these appealing ads of “healthy” food. For this reason, it is assumed that exactly fast-food advertising has radically changed eating habits all over the world and particularly in the United States.
Although several studies have dealt with a possible connections between watching TV and children’s eating habits, which may cause obesity, only a few have highlighted the impact of fast food restaurant advertising on the eating habits of the family and predominantly children who consume a major part of fast food. For instance, many studies of the Kaiser Family Foundation vaguely demonstrated the relationship between television advertising of fast food products and the shift to consuming much more calories (27).
As studies prove, television commercials heavily influence children’s psyche. As a result, the more children watch television, the higher is their demand for the advertised products (Kaiser Family Foundation 40). To explain how the consumers’ behavior changes due to the fast-food ads, Becky and Murphy have created a model which shows the connection between an advertising level of a brand and the consumption, which manifests itself in the consumer utility function (140). Also, the model has proved that consumers are more likely to buy more advertised products, because they see them on TV and which are seemed to be more useful.
Therefore, it may be reasonably argued that fast food advertising has had a negative impact upon children’s eating behaviors since children became the major consumers of fattening food that irreversibly causes obesity. Choy SY et al. (2005), mentioned in their research, “Overall, exposure to fast food restaurant advertising increases the likelihood of children and adolescents being overweight. Banning fast-food and restaurant television advertisements would reduce the number of overweight children ages 3–11 by 18 percent. The number of overweight adolescents aged 12–18 would decrease by 14 percent. The number of overweight children will be reduced by 7 and 5 percent by eliminating the tax deductibility of fast food advertising costs by 7 and 5 percent”.
The changes within the family itself have also favored the increased impact of fast food adverts on children. As a consequence, children are left uncontrolled when they constantly perceive the destructive influence of fast food advertisements. What makes the matters worse is that not all adults care enough about their children’s health and do not prohibit them to consume fast food (here we speak about cases when parents together with their children intentionally eat fattening products). Although parents are not able to control what their children eat at schools, they should not indulge a child in buying so highly desirable fast food products. Furthermore, parents may give some healthy food to their children so that the latter do not consume harmful products at schools.
Forms of fast-food advertising today
To get to the majority of children, fast food restaurants invest billions of dollars in advertisements and join several major corporations, which may ensure their success. The danger of fast food adverts lies in the fact that when consumers get large portions of food, they start eating very fast, disregarding the harmfulness of such eating habits. For example, in his study, Dalton mentioned that preschoolers were averagely eating 25% more cheese and macaroni when presented with large portions sizes in fast-food restaurants (45). At the same time, allowed to serve themselves children consumed smaller portions of food. The study also highlighted that children who still eat large portions while serving themselves were not hungry but consumed the largest amount of fast-food (Dalton 82). The research has shown that, due to the increased fast-food advertising, American children are consuming more calories than they did before.
According to Nestle, children are the major audience of fast food advertisements, since parents are ready to pay more for their children’s food preferences – annually parents spend $ 188 billion (Nestle 176). Further, the researcher underlines,
“Food companies spent more than $33 billion annually [. . .] to promote the most highly processed, elaborated packaged, and fast foods. Nearly 70% of food advertising is for convenience foods, candy, and snacks, alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, and desserts, whereas just 2.2% is for fruits, vegetables, grains, or beans.”
Having carried out a study on children between the ages of 7 and 12 years old, who spend their own money, Nestle demonstrated that, “half chose candy, more than one-third chose soft drinks and ice cream, and about one-fourth bought fast food” (178). Then, the research indicated that children who watched fast food commercials were more prone to buy this harmful food than those who were not exposed to the influence of fast food adverts.
This type of advert aimed at attracting children consumers is known as advertising. These can be fun food packages in groceries, television adverts, toys that could be found in children’s meals, and the food itself. The fast-food restaurants have also created several brand names, the very sounding of which can make or even make an adult and, moreover, a child, consume the product. The magic drink that accompanies the Kool-Aid and Ore-Ida sells blue French fries makes a person want to consume the fast-food product on the premise that the drink which goes together with those foods is really somewhat magic. In the case with children, the brand names may simply sound funny and appealing to them, which encourages even the youngest to try out “tasty” fast food products.
Further, Nestle mentions that 30% of high schools in the U.S. offer fast-food for lunches, whereas an increase in soft drinks by 1,100% is observed (Nestle 180). This fact is of immense importance since it proves that children are exposed to fast food even in schools, where they spend the major part of the day. In schools, fast food adverts are widespread. Following Nestle, we claim that one of the news program channels that are reportedly seen by over 8.3 million of students in approximately 12,000 schools is imbued predominantly with fast food adverts. What makes the matters worse is that fast-food restaurants are also supposed to have manipulated the teaching materials that teachers use in schools. Nestle (2002) argues that, “Food advertisers place logos or samples on book covers, videos and curriculum guides, guide to nutrition, mathematics education materials, and reading software. No fewer than 75 food-related corporations or groups offer to teach materials to schools”.
The danger of fast food adverts lies in their capability to completely change the students’ eating habits who may believe that excessive consumption of rich in calories food is good for their health. The adverts have also changed the general students’ beliefs about fast food; they also are irreversibly increasing demand for its consumption.
Influences of Fast-Food Advertising in Homes
No one would argue that modern children spend most of their free time indoors, using the internet, playing video games, and watching TV. It is believed that children watch TV for more than 1,250 hours in a year, what presupposes the exposure to 38,000 commercials that advertise mainly fast-food products. That is why there is no wonder that children mostly prefer fast foods to other meals; and this fact leads to great and constantly increasing numbers of children suffering from obesity.
According to Dalton, over 65 percent of American children have TV sets in their own bedrooms (Dalton 86). For this reason, children (even unwillingly) can watch many ads on fast food that prevail among television commercials. Therefore, many Americans prefer fast foods to fresh ones. Also, fast food ads make adults and children believe that the products they consume are cool and trendy, what subconsciously make people to buy only these products.
Fast food advertisements have increasingly been blamed for the increase in the obesity epidemic within families all over the world as well as in the U.S. The followers of this idea claim that the adverts favor the consumption of food rich in calories, at the same time leading to irresponsible eating behaviors. Next, opponents of fast foods stress that children are the most inclined to a dangerous impact of these adverts, since they cannot properly analyze the consequences of the consumption of fast food. Having seen a bright fast food advert, children are easily tempted to try a fast food product.
Critics of the school of thought that fast-food advertising has an influence on eating habits leading to increased cases of obesity
No matter how harmful fast foods may be, there are scholars who reject the idea of the influence of fast food adverts on families’ eating habits and that adverts of this kind cause obesity. Some people have argued that the statistics of individuals, who have died annually due to the obesity epidemic, as indicated by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention as a result of the changes in eating habits and influences of fast food advertising is inaccurate and lacks reasonable evidence. To support their argument, critics have relied on the cross-sectional study carried out in Quebec, which showed that children’s eating behavior leading to obesity due to the supposed consumption of fast-food has not changed even after the fast-food advertising aiming at children consumers was banned in the 1980s.
Furthermore, critics were deeply convinced that there is no connection between fast food advertisements and changes of people’s eating behavior (children’s eating habits in particular). To underpin their opinion, critics referred to the cross-cultural study proving that “despite the ban on fast food advertising targeting children, there was no major change on the eating habit of the children and the changes in the obesity rates were insignificant” (18). Nonetheless, despite these facts rejecting the impact of fast food advertising, several studies proving the opposite underpin the idea that widespread fast food adverts heavily influence people’s, especially children’s eating habits and may be treated as one of the main causes of obesity epidemic among children. Moreover, the destructive impact of fast food adverts becomes more obvious, if one bears in mind the fact that fast foods have become the favorite meal even of the youngest children, and exactly adverts are responsible for this. Exactly adverts represent these unhealthy meals as irresistibly attractive with the help of toys that are included into the so-called “happy meals”. On the whole, such politics is immoral and fast food adverts should be prohibited by the government since they play a negative role in adopting children`s eating habits and cause obesity.
This paper has examined the influence of fast food advertising on the eating behavior of individuals in society, especially children. From the studies that have been reviewed in this paper, it is distinctly clear that the adverts change the children’s eating behaviors to the consumption of more fast foods which are rich in calories and, therefore, lead to the increasing obesity epidemic among children. Children are mainly influenced, because they simply follow what is indicated in the advertisements. Fast food advertisements are everywhere where children are supposed to be: at schools, homes, in children’s clubs, and so on. Children, therefore, are not able to avoid the adverts. This paper recommends the banning of fast food advertising that are targeted to children all over the world as it has worked in some countries including Quebec.