By Richard Lenti
A war is being waged on the minds and appetites of children, and if it is lost, the outcome will be disastrous in the eyes of The World Health Association (WHO).
WHO is calling for more controls on the marketing of unhealthy foods that are high in sugars, salt, and trans fat to children.
“While adults know when they are being targeted by advertising, children cannot distinguish,” wrote the authors of the report. “This makes them particularly receptive and vulnerable to messages that lead to unhealthy choices.”
Researchers say that there is a strong link between television viewing and obesity in children, with recent data suggesting that children become obese not only because they watch TV instead of being active, but also due to their exposure to advertising and other marketing tactics.
“Brand recognition starts in early childhood and is linked to differences in the expression of eating behavior and weight status by the age of four years,” the report states.
“Overweight children in particular respond to the presence of branded food packaging by increasing their food consumption. It has been established that the presence of logos and generic cartoon characters on food product packaging influences choice and intake.”
The most commonly advertised foods are soft drinks, biscuits, fast-food outlets, confectionary, snack foods, heavily sweetened breakfast cereals and ready meals.
The WHO report comes just one day after the mayors of 18 U.S. cities revived their efforts to ban the use of food stamps for the purchase of soda and other sugary drinks.
In a letter to Congress, the mayors wrote that it was time to test and evaluate approaches to limiting the use of the subsidies for sugar-laden beverages in the interest of fighting obesity and related diseases.
“We need to find ways to strengthen the program and promote good nutrition while limiting the use of these resources for items with no nutritional value, like sugary drinks, that are actually harming the health of participants,” wrote New York mayor Michael Bloomberg in a letter released by his office.
“Why should we continue supporting unhealthy purchases in the false name of nutrition assistance?”
Food stamps cannot be used to buy alcohol, cigarettes, hot food and some other items. Past efforts to stop people from using the benefit to buy soda, candy and other items seen as unhealthy have failed.
The American Beverage Association, which represents the non-alcoholic, refreshment beverage industry, says sugary drinks shouldn’t be singled out as a cause of obesity. It called obesity “a complex health condition that affects Americans of all income levels.”
“Targeting struggling families who rely on (food stamps’) vital safety net will not make America healthier or reduce government spending,” the association said in a statement.
This week the American Medical Association declared obesity was a disease, effecting 78 million American adults and 12 million children.
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