Are Animated Characters the Cause of Childhood Obesity?

Recently, children have been a key target audience in the advertising and marketing world. Children love to watch television, which makes them an easy target for television advertising. Studies have shown that television commercials can impact children’s choices and decisions in many areas. One key area is their food selections. TV snacks and fast-food advertising is one of many possible factors that influence childhood obesity, which is a major public health problem in the U.S. Though some may oppose, limiting junk food television advertising and promoting more physical activity may help prevent childhood overweight.

The rate of childhood obesity in the U.S. has nearly tripled since the 1970’s, and it has become a main concern in our society. “The fast food industry is an important force in the obesity epidemic. The television and video industries play a key role by directly advertising foods to children and by encouraging sedentary behavior. The best single predictor of obesity is television viewing,” says Darwin in  Advertising Obesity: Can the U.S. Follow the Lead of the UK in Limiting Television Marketing of Unhealthy Foods to Children?  Studies have investigated possible solutions for childhood obesity. Advocates argue that restricting television food advertising would reverse the childhood obesity rate. Udell and Mehta did a study that analyzed 166 articles for arguments, causes, and solutions of childhood overweight. The two found that unhealthy food television advertising, increased screen time, and lack of physical activity were the main causes. Along with supportive environments for physical activity and healthy eating, a policy change to food advertising was found to be a key solution for childhood obesity. Eighty-two articles (49%) supported restricting television food advertising to children while 35 (21%) had a negative slant. Supporters of the restriction pointed out that children are vulnerable to the exposure of low-nutrition food advertisement making it difficult for parents to encourage their children to eat healthy.

Advertisements using popular characters make children demand certain products. Children are convinced through marketing of their favorite fictional characters that they want a certain product such as, unhealthy food. This article believes Shrek, the animated ogre, is a perfect example. While Shrek is used for advertising varieties of funk food, he is also used as a health advocate . The Health and Human Services Department, the Ad Council’s Coalition Children, and DreamWorks Animated SKG featured an ad campaign, where Shrek encourages children to exercise. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, an advocacy group that monitors marketing aimed towards children, argued that the animated character causes a conflict of interest between advertising unhealthy foods and promoting public health. The CCFC pointed out that the ad campaign was sending mixed messages to children, and wanted the HHS to oust Shrek. “Surely Health and Human Services can find a better spokesperson for healthy living than a character who is walking advertisement for McDonald’s, sugary cereals, cookies, and candy.”

Marketing to kids is completely unethical. While industries have “voluntary guideline,” it’s time to take action, and  make these regulations concrete.


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