There is no question that America is dealing with a widespread obesity problem. Who is to blame? Americans of course. Consumers choose what food to put into their body and choose whether or not to exercise.
But how are American consumers really supposed to know what is good for them and what is bad for them? The average American has no training in nutrition and are exposed to thousands of food advertisements everyday. I believe advertisers are being unethical by creating the perception that consumers do not need to eat food other than what’s advertised. The number of households that cook has decreased by about 15% in the last 30 years and more consumers eat out for most or all of their meals. And I bet even households that do cook eat packaged, prepared and frozen meals. That food is killing consumers. What ever happened to fresh fruit and vegetables, homemade bread, beef that’s not dripping in vegetable grease and sautéing fresh seafood?
Do a Google image search for “food advertisement” and most of the results are photos of pizza, greasy tacos, hamburgers, breadsticks, cereal, soft drinks, juice, candy, Twinkies and cheese. The occasional piece of fruit, glass of milk or chicken sandwich appears, but not nearly as often as junk food ads. Watch TV for an hour and count the number of fast food commercials. American consumers can’t escape these ads because they’re everywhere! Do advertisers not care about the health of their audiences?
Take a second look at that last ad. Do you really think Heidi Klum is thin and beautiful because she eats huge, juicy burgers all the time? Of course not. But by using celebrity endorsements, advertisers put the idea in consumers’ heads that they too can look like her if they buy and eat that food. When society is constantly throwing ideals at its consumers, they’re eventually going to adopt and follow those ideals.
What’s worse is a large part of the target audience is children. American childhood obesity has tripled in the last 25 years. Childhood obesity can lead to obesity in adulthood, which increases the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes. These statistics are directly related to the time that children spend consuming media! This exert from the American Psychological Association describes exactly why the exposure to hundreds of food advertisements a day is so detrimental to the health of children:
“Most children under age 6 cannot distinguish between programming and advertising and children under age 8 do not understand the persuasive intent of advertising. Advertising directed at children this young is by its very nature exploitative. Children have a remarkable ability to recall content from the ads to which they have been exposed. Product preference has been shown to occur with as little as a single commercial exposure and to strengthen with repeated exposures. Product preferences affect children’s product purchase requests and these requests influence parents’ purchasing decisions” (American Psychological Association).
So how do we fix this ethical problem? Without encroaching on the first amendment, I believe the government should regulate junk and fast food advertising. To solve such a widespread health problem like obesity, the federal government needs to take action. Believe or not, advertisements have a huge impact on consumers’ perception! Before something even more detrimental than obesity happens to our society, fast food advertisers need to re-think the importance of ethics and the effect advertisements have on consumers.
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Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). Overweight and Obesity. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
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American Psychology Association. (2015). The Impact of Food Advertising on Childhood Obesity. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/kids-media/food.aspx
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