Thursday, December 14, 2006

Action against advertising to children

Your child's doctor is a balanced and trusted source of wisdom, right?

Here is the abstract from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) earlier this month:
Advertising is a pervasive influence on children and adolescents. Young people view more than 40,000 ads per year on television alone and increasingly are being exposed to advertising on the Internet, in magazines, and in schools. This exposure may contribute significantly to childhood and adolescent obesity, poor nutrition, and cigarette and alcohol use. Media education has been shown to be effective in mitigating some of the negative effects of advertising on children and adolescents.
The Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch blog post reported this development with the headline, "Doctors seek ban on junk food ads." I couldn't find quite such a broad advertising ban in the recommendations, but I might be mistaken, and in any case it is a fine point. The recommendations do call for a ban on in-school advertising (such as the sinister and fortunately beleaguered Channel One TV project). The pediatricians point out that commercial speech targeting children does not really deserve serious First Amendment protections, as political speech does. Moreover, the word "ban" shows up in favorable comments about progressive pro-child policies in other advanced countries, so the pediatricians clearly have a strong policy response in mind. They also call for federally funded media awareness education to make children less susceptible to advertising influences in the first place.

In related news, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) this month praised the World Health Organization's most recent conference report on advertising food to children (.pdf) around the world.

A fascinating side story has been the efforts of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to find out what advertisers' own research shows about the influence of their advertising. What little I know about that research comes from a presentation I once saw by Juliet Schor, whose related book is Born to Buy: the Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture.

And that brings us to the most interesting sentence I read on this topic while preparing this post. It comes from a generally favorable Amazon review of Schor's book, which nevertheless found fault with her proposed solutions:
Reacting to the power and creativity of the consumer culture with politically unfeasible regulation and parental diligence is a little like attacking Frankenstein's creature with torches.
One could find this assessment discouraging, but I don't. It causes me to reflect on what responses really do have "power and creativity" to match those of the consumer culture. This happy list is so long that it had better wait for another day's writing.


Anonymous said...

Banning advertising to children seems such a common-sense idea. How fat will American children have to become before this will be a reality?

Right now I still see things like Fruity Pebbles being advertised as being part of a healthy breakfast.

Yoni Freedhoff, MD said...

There was a great quote in an editorial written by I believe Rosie Schwartz (a dietitian with a column in a Toronto paper). She was writing about one of her young children who came running up to her one morning to tell her, "Mommy, Mommy, guess what, frosted flakes is part of a nutritious breakfast!"

In Canada, the province of Quebec banned advertising targeting children in 1978 and while it may be coincidental, they have the lowest rates of childhood obesity in the country.

Studies consistently show that pre-teen children cannot differentiate truth from advertising - a fact known actually for quite a long time as in 1874 the English parliament passed the Infants' Relief Act to protect children from, "their own lack of experience and from the wiles of pushing tradesmen and moneylenders" and this was BEFORE television!

While I'm certainly not convinced a ban will decrease rates of childhood obesity (or slow their climb), I would wholeheartedly support any effort at banning advertising of any sort targeting such a vulnerable population.

Anonymous said...

I'm intrigued by the "powerful and creative" alternatives. It's got to be pretty engaging to balance the number of advertisements quoted.

On the free speech side of the argument, we do have restrictions on other forms of tv advertising... no drinking beer in commercials. Seems like the FCC would be the relevant authority.