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To what extent is Food Advertising changing habits in the UK?

Today people in the UK are more and more exposed to subliminal inputs that constantly influence their choices regarding eating habits, such as advertisements. By exploring medical and health research the findings of this article highlight that African communities in particular, and BAME people in the UK, with a focus also on children, are severely negatively influenced by television and outdoor advertising.

Living in a globalized and high-tech interconnected world also includes having a growing preponderance of junk food advertising compared to the totality of the advertising to which we are exposed. This phenomenon could be enough to make consumers and even governments more aware of this important issue that may affect the health of everyone, especially minorities groups, however, it is not the case.

Image credit iStock via Parent24

Food companies have been demonstrating some kind of bias about ethnicity and economic condition, advertising to these minorities food types that are surely cheaper but also unhealthy. This situation is due to the fact that minorities in general have a low income, and as a consequence junk food is obviously cheaper. Within this framework children are generally not able to discern commercial intentions, risking their health too. This leaves the heavy burden of protecting the children mostly in the hands of their parents, who most of the times, need to work even harder to fill the salary gap between BAME communities and the rest of the white social classes.

Clearly, the effects of food advertising on people choices and eating habits are often underestimated. This undoubtedly poses a growing health risk given the sheer increase of its volume in today's national economy. Geographically speaking, at the present time the UK seems to be suffering from one of the highest obesity rates in the world, placing itself on the first position for the most obese country In Western Europe.

To this regard, the television can be a great obstacle to the aim of reducing calories intake because it is the primary medium used for food advertising. As the Ofcom office explains, it is widely accepted that obesity happens in case of overconsumption of food, without spending the calories excess with physical activity, and this problem is rising in the UK. The influence of the television is overwhelming when looking at the data assessing that 53% of British population stated that they have had a snack while watching tv the majority of the time.

Image credit Great Italian Food Trade

One way to limit the increasing obesity epidemic may be to reduce the calories intake, but nowadays that is a hard challenge partly due to the rapidly growing number of food-advertisement which the people are exposed to stimulate consumption and maximize the sales. This demonstrates that food companies pay more attention to their sale numbers rather than common people health. There is a strict connection between overconsumption and TV, as research report. TV can indeed distract people from healthier habits, and other data states that eating while watching television can lead to eating more without thinking about it because the amount of food consumed might be monitored less in the proper way, due to the distraction caused by TV.

Therefore, television advertising exposure can drive the consumer to buy and over-eat advertised food. There is a big market behind food advertising, and the highest percentage of the advertised food is high-calories and low-nutrients.

Another victim exposed to this disease is the weakest: the children. Records from the World Health Organization (WHO) explain that, worldwide, the number of children and adolescents who are obese (age group 5-19 years) have increased tenfold after. As of 2016, 337 million children and adolescent were overweight or obese. This could be enough to give an idea of how much the situation is critical and to push our government to think about this issue before the situation gets worse.

Hungry Jack Flaky Biscuits' advertisement. Image credit Vintage Ad Browser via Pinterest

As a result, most children have to be protected from the high amount of advertising that targets them. In general, children cannot understand the commercial intention, and children up to age 13 are possibly manipulated, as dr. Elliott explains. One possible problem is that even the children have become consumers too and as such, they are often treated, despite the fact the purchasing power is still in the hands of the parents. Other studies warn that children with full time working parents are likely to rely more on TV food advertising, probably because of the high number of hours they spent in front of Television without the mediation of an adult.

To maximize profits and sales, in some cases, companies target their products to the right kind of consumers on ethnic bases. Food Advertising does not necessarily lead to obesity. However, if the ad is made with full knowledge of the possible harmful consequences on health, it poses no threat to its public. But, the harmfulness of an ad sometimes can depend on which ethnicity group it is targeted.

Studies showed that people from the African ethnic groups are subjected to food advertisement and distribution models that are very likely to bring unfavourable consequences on health, as opposed to the results shown on the people who not belong to a minority group. This process of targeting by the food companies is probably due to the fact that African and minorities in the UK and elsewhere, generally have a lower income than the other people. Healthy food is not the only one to be rarely advertised, also physical activity don’t receive enough attention from advertising companies, in fact, another source also registered fewer ads related to fitness and fewer health-connected ads rather than aliments and drinks ads in the TV programs for the preponderance of Ethnic Minorities public than in the general public.

Image credit MCDONALD’S

Unsurprisingly, it seems that food companies may have a sort of ethnic biases, in fact, this situation could be a consequence that the fresh fruit and vegetables of good quality are sometimes harder to find rather than packaged food and more expensive, so not everyone can afford it, especially in the BAME communities where pay gaps are commonplace. So healthier food is advertised more to high-income people who supposedly pay less attention to the price of the goods in favour of quality. In addition, this can also witness the importance of the price in the purchasing decision-making, even when the product is such a high important good for our life like the food that we eat.

The food multinationals with their actions prove to have clear economic and ethnic prejudices, and with these biases they could endanger the health of low-income people and minorities, advertising them unhealthy food and lifestyles. As a result, the UK government should regulate the field of food advertising more restrictively or there will be an always growing disproportion in the health conditions of this fundamental section of the population.

Image credit Henry Hargreaves and Caitlin Levin via The New York Times


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