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Obesity: is television to blame?

Weeks ago I was incensed by a news report (cue my first rant for Christmas) stating that when children become teenagers their diet deteriorates because they suddenly have control and responsibility over what they eat.
In my mind, this is totally false. On my 13th birthday, I don’t recall my mother handing over the reins to me and saying, “Here, eat as much McDonald’s as you like”. And indeed, even if she had, my keen interest in food and cooking would have meant that I probably wouldn’t have chosen to subsist on hydrogenated fats and E-numbers, as is portrayed to be every adolescent’s dream.
However, the influence of TV advertising on childhood and adolescent obesity appears to be an issue of concern for parliament. It has recently been suggested by Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham that a 21:00 watershed – as is currently the case for television programmes of a violent or sexual nature – be placed on adverts for “junk” foods that are high in salt, fat and sugar. As part of the Labour party’s policy, it cannot be claimed that the sentiment isn’t top-notch.
With 18.6% of year six children in the UK classified as obese in 2013, things clearly need to change. Nobody is arguing with Burnham’s aims, but the current Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has argued in a tweet that legislation might not be the answer: “Backing families two [sic] make better choices brings lasting change”.
Indeed, I believe it is important that families take responsibility for the diets of children and learn how to make healthy diet choices. This is not Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – if a chocolate bar is advertised, it cannot be taken out of the screen and eaten there and then. A parent or guardian will generally make choices for their children with the weekly shop. The only responsibility a child will and should have is the question of spending their – hopefully minimal – pocket money on a few sweets.
Call me old-fashioned, but in my day if I saw junk food advertised on TV and asked one of my parents for it, they said “no” and I moved on with my life. As children have little to no disposable income, they should not be a major target audience in the first place.
A watershed on the advertising of junk food would, I believe, impinge upon both the rights and responsibilities of parents. Parents and guardians have the responsibility to make healthy choices for their children and educate them to do the same. Furthermore, like it or not, everyone has the right to an informed decision. We are each entitled to be aware that unhealthy food and healthier alternatives are both on offer… and again, to be educated to make the right choice.
The potential ineffectiveness of this policy also strikes me. Even though many politicians can give the impression that they left their mother’s womb aged 45 and worked from there, anyone who is or has ever been a teenager will know that watersheds, at least nowadays, don’t really make that much of a difference. I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to protect our children from things we feel might harm them – that’s human nature – but if children aren’t Sky Plus-ing Skins on the sly they can easily access inappropriate content online or, as was the case for me, simply read the graffiti on the bus ride to school. Advertising can be even more pervasive than this. Are we to ban billboards, magazines, newspapers and – oh yes – the entire Internet as well?

27/01/2015

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oliviaminnock


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    Favourite song covers
    Ma’am, this is a Wendy’s
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    Favourite song covers
    Is this author 14 years old with absolutely zero knowledge on music? Has to be. Two out of three songs are irrelevant. Both by shitty bands. Who paid for this?…
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    Wonderful article! Very insightful and brilliantly communicated. I wasn't aware of this issue before, but this article has really brought it to light for me. Thank you very much!
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