Experts warn parents about the harmful effects of the marketing of ultra-processed food and drinks on children’s health

Experts are warning parents to be aware of the harmful effects that the marketing of ultra-processed foods (UPF) and drinks can have on children’s health.

These types of messages sent by the food and beverage industry, whether directly through print, radio, television and social media ads, or indirectly through brand sponsorship (the sponsorship of a product, a individual or an event in exchange for brand promotion), or billboards depicting unhealthy food options near, for example, a school, are causing children to develop cravings for foods that have little or no value nutritional

In other words, they basically direct kids to buy foods high in sugar, salt, and fat.

Vonetta Nurse, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) nutrition officer in Jamaica, while speaking at the Jamaica Youth Advocacy Network Editors’ Forum on healthy eating policies on Tuesday, expressed concern about marketing child-directed learning (CDM), which uses language, images, colors and other engaging methodologies to influence children to make particular decisions.

“Indirect marketing is most common in schools, and examples may include sponsoring school and community events, health campaigns, sponsoring school sports teams, school meals; product and brand placement (books, bags, toys); promotion with celebrities, entertainers, brand mascots [or] cartoon characters; … music, games, etc.,” he emphasized.

Nurse drew attention to some of the key challenges he faces, such as limited resources, where many schools rely on the support received from these brands; perceptions of corporate social responsibility versus marketing; the ability to regulate the school environment; data gaps, such as limited data on the scale of marketing and limited qualitative research focused on children; and public awareness and support from policy makers.

Foods that have undergone industrial modifications by means of aromas, dyes, preservatives, additives or artificial sweeteners are considered UPF. Carbonated soft drinks, packaged sweet or salty snacks such as chips, cookies, candies and chocolate; frozen dinners like pizza and chicken nuggets; baked goods, such as bread, pastries and cakes; and processed cheeses are some common examples.

UNDERMINING CHILDREN’S RIGHTS

According to Nurse, the effects of CDM include an association with noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), obesity and overweight, as well as detrimental effects on children’s long-term physical and mental health and educational performance. Together, it undermines the rights of children, adolescents and young people.

“In school, promotion is particularly worrying because this is where there is a captive audience. This is where a large proportion of children can be influenced at once, with children spending much of their time in schools. [where] they have eating habits that can be established young that will last a lifetime,” he said.

“Students and parents also trust that whatever happens in schools is in the best interest of their children,” he added.

In addition, this form of marketing influences children’s food preferences, purchase requests, consumption patterns and attitudes toward food, Nurse said.

He went on to say that it was worrying because children were unable to understand the purpose of this type of persuasive advertising. Additionally, this strategy undermines parents who want to make healthier choices for their family as children begin to impose the “power of evil,” “kid creep,” or “nuisance factor” on their parents.

During the five-person panel discussion, Dr. Suzzane Soares-Wynter, a clinical nutritionist at the Caribbean Health Research Institute, revealed that some people have the misconception that healthy food has to be expensive and come in colorful packaging, but what they did. It is not known that these foods usually contained high levels of preservatives, which makes the food unhealthy.

“We need to change our mindset about what we think is healthy or unhealthy…and I think parents need to make sure you guide your kids. [on what foods to select] and make it easy at home because you also have to be that role model for your kids when it comes to getting used to eating those things (healthy foods),” she said.

The month of March is celebrated as National Nutrition Month and this year’s theme is “Beyond the Table”.

According to national data, one in three Jamaicans has hypertension and one in eight has diabetes. In addition, research conducted in 2017 shows that more than 30,000 children between the ages of 10 and 19 were hypertensive.

OBESITY A PROBLEM

Additionally, the World Health Organization’s Global School Student Health Survey revealed that in Jamaica, 20% of boys and 26.4% of girls aged 13-17 had overweight, and nine percent of boys and nine and a half percent of girls in the same age group were obese.

Figures from the Jamaican Health and Lifestyle Survey show that one in three Jamaicans are hypertensive: 35.8% are women and 31.7% are men.

It is estimated that the Jamaican economy will lose an estimated $77 billion between 2017 and 2032 if NCD interventions continue to go unimplemented.

Jamaica is currently in the process of developing a National School Nutrition Policy through the Ministry of Education and Youth in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Welfare.

It is now at the Green Paper stage, and the next step will be a White Paper. Once approved by the Council of Ministers, the policy will move to implementation.

UNICEF believes in creating comprehensive public policies and programs that regulate and protect children and adolescents from direct and indirect promotion and advertising of unhealthy foods and beverages.

Among his suggestions for the Government are the following: a multi-sectoral approach to inclusive political decision-making; a restriction on the promotion of unhealthy food and drink in and around schools during regular school hours and during extended school days and at school functions and events; and public awareness campaigns to educate consumers about their rights. In addition, it should encourage the industry to engage in socially conscious marketing.

asha.wilks@gleanerjm.com

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