What Junk Food Is Up To

chilc watching tvChildren and adolescents are exposed to massive amounts of marketing that promotes consumption of calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods leading them down the path to obesity and its related illnesses.

Junk food advertising dominates airtime on children’s and adolescents’ television stations and influences our youngest generation’s understanding of food, diet and a healthy lifestyle. A sedentary, junk food lifestyle leads to unhealthy blood sugar management, which in turn leads to obesity, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Is there anything we can do to change the future?

Junk Food Advertising

Adolescents in the United States were estimated to have spent about $160 billion on products in 2005, most of which were candy, soft drinks and salty snacks. Meanwhile, parents shopping with an adolescent spend 60% more at the supermarket than when they shop alone.

Adolescents are very brand-loyal with a large purchasing power – a strategic opportunity for marketers. With adolescents between 15 and 18 years of age watching over 2.5 hours of television per day, it’s no surprise that the junk food industry advertises on adolescent television programs. Twenty-six percent of all products advertised on television is food, with 62% of this for fast food restaurants, sweets and beverages, which are all of low nutritional value.

Food marketing significantly influences adolescents and children. According to research from the Berkeley Media Studies Group, children are vulnerable to forming long-lasting emotional connections to brands (such as McDonald’s), especially when items like toys and familiar characters are involved. The scary part is this emotional connection with junk food is occurring at a time when children and adolescents are establishing life-long consumer and eating behavior patterns.

The Effect on Children and Adolescent Health

Research has linked consumption of junk food with health problems such as the consumption of soft drinks. A 2008 review highlighted a strong link between soft drink consumption and obesity in adolescents. Eating junk food can cause obesity in children and adolescents, which brings with it an increased likelihood of serious health problems.

A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics links obesity and inadequate sleep with increased risk of cardiovascular disease in adults and younger children. Obese adolescents are more likely to have pre-diabetes, joint problems, sleep apnea and poor self-esteem. They are also likely to become obese adults, putting them at risk for heart disease, stroke, cancer and osteoarthritis.

According to the Centre for Disease Control Prevention, the number of adolescents who are obese has quadrupled over the past 30 years. In Canada, it is estimated that 1 in 4 children and adolescents are overweight, with the obesity rate increasing from 2% to 10% in boys, and 2% to 9% in girls between 1989 and 2004.

Ways to Make Change

Encouraging children and adolescents to have healthier lifestyle habits is important to their immediate and long-term health. Getting sufficient sleep and physical activity are a great start; it is recommended that children and adolescences get about 8.5 hours of sleep per night and 60 minutes of physical activity each day.

Healthy eating habits are established early in life.  Educating children and adolescents about the importance of healthy living, and showing them how to eat properly is vital to the health of our next generation. Healthy eating can start at home with lots of fresh whole foods. For best results, parents can both encourage good eating habits and lead by example.

Sometimes the most effective way to teach children and adolescents is to “talk their language,” such as using apps to help them learn about healthy eating habits. Check out myWholeLife Blood Sugar App for simple and practical strategies for maintaining blood sugar through food, lifestyle and more.

Limiting the exposure of children and adolescents  to contradictory messages by the junk food industry may also be helpful. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises limited television for young people, and it suggests that television keeps them sedentary and exposes them to junk food marketing that encourages poor eating habits that can have lasting impacts, like obesity.

Outside of the home, others are fighting to restrict junk food’s influence on children and adolescents. The First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, has been talking, walking and even dancing to promote change in how our youngest generations are learning about food and healthy living. She has been advocating for changes in junk food advertising, healthier food options in schools and more informative food labels.

Michelle Obama’s not the only one who feels developing healthy eating and living habits in children and adolescents is important for our future. Canadian Olympic rower, Silken Laumann and other famous athletes have worked with charities such as Right To Play, encouraging children to embrace an active lifestyle. And, of course, the most visually shocking has been Jamie Oliver’s presentations. He has opened eyes to our unhealthy eating habits in schools on television with shocking visuals, such as unloading a dump truck full of fat in front of parents to show them the amount of fat served from the cafeteria at school that year.

It may be working. Re-educating children, adolescents, parents and caregivers about healthy eating habits in the maintenance of a healthy body weight may be making a difference. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that despite childhood obesity rates remaining high, some groups show a decline. Efforts to improve the next generation’s understanding of what it means to live healthy may be working. Perhaps it is possible for the next generation to enjoy a world without dieting.

 A Helpful Resource

The remarkable new eBook, Power Up: Master Your Blood Sugar, offers holistic solutions to achieving optimum blood sugar levels. With more than 110 million North Americans having pre-diabetes or diabetes, and 2 million new diagnoses each year, this book can help us all better understand how food affects our blood sugar, and how managing our blood sugar can combat obesity, diabetes and more. Power Up: Master Your Blood Sugar, a holistic guide to optimal blood sugar balance, is available for purchase April 15th – Apple iBooks, Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble, and more. Stay tuned!


Article – The New Age of Food Marketing, BMSG – October 1, 2011 http://www.bmsg.org/resources/publications/the-new-age-of-food-marketing

Brownell, K.D. et al. The Need for Bold Action to Prevent Adolescent Obesity. Journal of Adolescent Health 45 (2009) S8–S17 http://www.yaleruddcenter.org/resources/upload/docs/what/industry/ActionPreventAdolescentObesity_JADA_6.09.pdf

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trends in the Prevalence of Extreme Obesity Among US Preschool-Aged Children Living in Low-Income Families, 1998-2010. JAMA. 2012; 308 (24): 2563-2565 http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/childhood.html

Harrington, S. The role of sugar-sweetened beverage consumption in adolescent obesity: a review of the literature. J Sch Nurs 2008;24(1):3-1. http://jsn.sagepub.com/content/24/1/3.short

IglayReger, H.B. et al. Sleep Duration Predicts Cardiometabolic Risk in Obese Adolescents. The Journal of Pediatrics, DOI 10.1016/j.jpeds.2014.01.034, published 6 March 2014. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022347614000626

Shields M. Measured obesity: overweight Canadian children and adolescents. In: Nutrition: findings from the Canadian Community Health Survey; issue 1; 2005 (cat no 82-620-MWE2005001). Available: www.statcan.ca/english/research/82-620-MIE/2005001/pdf/cobesity.pdf