Children are always going to want to eat things that are bad for them—sweets, junk food, frozen food—all solid favourites amongst kids. These are also the foods that cause the most problems among a demographic already vulnerable to obesity and diabetes, especially if bad habits are established early on. These types of foods are given the acronym HFSS foods, standing for 'high in fat, salt and sugar'. For several years now HFSS foods have been restricted from advertising directly to children, principally on television. This is part of an effort to reduce child obesity by removing the temptation. However, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) is looking into extending restrictions on ads promoting HFSS to children—especially on the internet.
Modern children are increasingly watching programmes on tablet computers or smartphones, streaming them online—and the advertising attached to programmes online isn't monitored or restricted in the same way as television. Guy Parker, the head of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the CAP would also look into “the impact on children of immersive advertising content” like freemium games that subtly sell products to consumers. Children don't have the same cynicism or awareness most adults do, making them extremely vulnerable to suggestive messages. The problem is simply that restrictions and regulations haven't kept pace with the speed at which the public has moved online—including children.
Thankfully most children's programmes do not feature product placement, meaning manufacturer's have little recourse in selling HFSS foods to children this way. Depending on the streaming facility being used, however, this might be immaterial since banner ads or pop ups can be employed. Marketing HFSS foods to children by making them aspirational products is rather despicable, but that hasn't stopped some producers. The good news is that since most children are only streaming using authorised outlets like BBC's iPlayer, ITV's Entertainment hub and 4OD, this insidious advertising can be controlled and curtailed.
The pushback against rising childhood obesity and diabetes is likely to take the form of increasingly draconian laws aimed at lowering the popularity of HFSS foods. The pressure healthcare systems are under all over the developed world requires serious action, and the key is getting to children at a young age—to prevent bad habits from being formed in the first place. High sugar and fat foods should be a treat for kids, not a regular part of their diets.
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