Is your child obese? Blame the TV channels

DNA: The study also says that the biggest ‘at risk’ group for obesity and other health-related problems are school-going adolescents many of whom are the main target audience for these channels

If your children have a sweet tooth, the culprit may actually be the television, or more specifically their favourite TV channel.

A study conducted by the University College of Medical Sciences and Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, New Delhi, and published in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine reveals that more than half of the advertisements on popular TV channels promote confectionaries, candies and sugar-sweetened soft drinks which all contribute to obesity.

The study, published in the Indian Journal of Community Medicine, also says that the biggest ‘at risk’ group for obesity and other health-related problems are school-going adolescents many of whom are the main target audience for these channels.

Dr Piyush Gupta, the main author of the study, says an analysis of ad content on Discovery, MTV and Disney Channels found that food advertising tended to dominate on these channels and that more than half of these food advertisements promoted sweets or junk food.

“We viewed 403 advertisements for over 36 hours. Out of this figure, 235 were in the junk food/sweet tooth category. Out of these 235, 163 (69.3 per cent) pertained to candies, chocolates and confectionary and 35 (14.8 per cent) were related to salty snacks. Then, sugar sweetened-soft drinks contributed to 90 of 106 (85 per cent) of beverage advertisements. Finally, out of the 62 advertisements related to food outlets, 59 were of fast food joints,” says Dr Gupta.

“Television is a major source of exposure to advertisements for fast food, high- sugar foods and sugar-sweetened beverages that influence the choices of this vulnerable group (school-going adolescents),” he adds.

Obesity has evolved into an epidemic in the country with the percentage of overweight children increasing from 9 to 27.5 per cent and that of obese children ranging from 1 to 12.9 per cent. Doctors also say that obesity in children can cause other problems; it can increase the risk of subsequent morbidity and other lifestyle diseases in adolescence as well as into adulthood.

The problem is also accentuated by the fact that children’s channels also use a lot of animation and celebrity endorsement to promote such products making them especially attractive to children and young teenagers.

“We have noted a kind of appeal (use of animation/celebrity endorsement/focus on immediate sale/direct appeal to buy their product) used to promote the product. Direct appeal appears to be the most preferred form of attracting customers, with 310 (77 per cent) of advertisements focusing on them. None of the advertisements displayed or highlighted the nutritional content of the marketed food,” Dr Gupta says in the study.

The Government of India has notified Food Safety and Standard Regulations (Packaging and Labelling) in 2011. Under this Act, rules have been drawn up to encourage food packaging and advertisements to focus less on taste and convenience, more on education and health. The Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) in collaboration with Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) are in process to keep a check on errant advertisers and to modify the advertisements based on prescribed guidelines.

“The regulations have clearly defined as to what constitutes the Health Claims and Nutrition Claims. Even after these rules and regulations, various food product manufacturing companies continue to advertise unhealthy food products to this vulnerable group despite their own pledges and commitments,” said Dr Gupta.

Attempts to contact MTV, Disney and Discovery channels failed to meet with a response.

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