Are Commercials Making Our Kids Eat More Junk?
I try to serve healthy foods in my house—but it's a battle.
"Mom! Mom! Mom!" my kids yell from the living room. "Come! Look! You can put your snacks and your drink all in one container! Can we get one? Can we get one? Pluheeeeez? It's only $9.99! Mom! Mom! Come quick, if you buy now ...."
I finish the sentence, "We'll get another one free?"
My son's face has a genuine look of surprise: How'd I know that? Ah, we moms are geniuses.
My kids are new to commercials, bless their hearts. We could blissfully avoid them when they were toddlers watching Sesame Street or as preschoolers engrossed in the plethora of Netflix offerings like Curious George and The Backyardigans (Oh how I miss you Pablo, Tyrone, Uniqua, Tasha, and Austin and your adorable songs!). But now at age 7 and 9, even with all the controls I can figure out how to control, they can now access real TV and select YouTube channels, all which come with commercials. And it's driving me absolutely batty.
It's not the all-in-one snacking gizmos that do me in; it's the toy and, especially junk food commercials. I hate it that these marketers get direct access to my completely gullible children. We try to eat healthfully in my house–limited processed foods and absolutely no junk food—but the job of these commercials is to undermine all of that, to undermine me. Now my kids want sugary cereal, so bright it has to be artificially colored candies, and ready-made lunch meals that have a shelf life of, oh, 100 years. And when they accompany me to the grocery store they now beg me for this crap right in the aisle, right on cue. Those commercials are good, very good. So good in fact, that a meta-analysis of several studies shows that children are far more likely than adults to consume more junk food (or drinks) after viewing food advertising on TV or the internet than adults.
Yeah, yeah yeah. I'm sure you're going to tell me that I should be sitting down and watching with my kids and explaining that these are all just ploys to get them to eat—and me to buy—this stuff. But let's be frank, the only reason they get screen time to begin with is so I can get stuff done. When they are watching Jessie and StampyLongNose I am not sitting with them. What a waste of valuable time! No, I'm writing checks to Little League, picking up the two months' old apple core from behind the radiator, fishing a Shopkin out of the dog's mouth. ... So no, I'm not supervising what marketers are trying to convince them to convince me to buy. And I won't be able to monitor every ad they see throughout their childhoods either. Because organizations like the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the World Health Organization and others realize this is the case in most families, they are calling on food companies themselves to stop it already, to stop marketing unhealthy food to children on children's programming.
Hmmm. I'm not convinced that's happening anytime soon, are you? The one thing I do have going for me is for now I still control the cash flow, and thus all the food that comes into my house. I can also decide who goes with me to the grocery store, too. Read: no one. It's actually quite nice to go shopping alone. Peaceful, actually. I highly recommend.
Chandra Turner is the executive editor of Parents magazine.