Falling to the lure of food commercials

Study reveals 32.85 per cent of children demand food items they see on TV.

Peer Muhammad January 23, 2011

ISLAMABAD: Children aged four to five years are more receptive to television advertisements, reveals a study that measured the impact of food advertisements on children’s consumption patterns in the twin cities.

Such advertisements have a strong impact on the eating habits of children and can cause health problems among them, said the study’s
lead researcher Muhammad Haroon of the National University of Modern Languages (NUML) while talking to The Express Tribune.

The study revealed that 32.85 per cent of children demanded their parents to buy food products presented in TV advertisements. This behaviour was more common in children aged between four to five years. The study highlighted that most of the advertisers are promoting food products high on fat, calories and salt, while none promoted foods have real nutrients. Food items like confectioneries, soft drinks, crisps, fast-foods and pre-sugared breakfast cereals are being consumed by children on a daily basis.

Only 6.9 per cent of children did not take notice of television advertisements.

Talking to The Express Tribune, Mrs Shahbaz, a mother of two school-going kids said that her children’s eating habits change from time to time by following food advertisement on TV. Instead of advertising the reality, these companies “tremendously exaggerate” their products. She said most of the advertised food items pose health risks and cause children to gain extra weight. “But we are compelled to fulfil demands of our children and succumb to their wishes one way or the other,” she added.

The study, published in the International Journal of Business and Management in January 2011, was conducted by a team of researchers from three universities: Haroon of NUML, Dr Tahir Masood Qureshi of University of Central Punjab, Lahore, Muhammad Ziaur Rehman of NUML and Mansoor Nisar of Muhammad Ali Jinnah University.

The researchers studied contents of food advertisement on television and sent out questionnaires to 200 parents in Islamabad and Rawalpindi, 75 of whom had children attending first, second and third grades of primary school, while the remaining 125 had children attending pre-school.

Ziaur Rehman, a researcher of NUML said that many advertisers are targeting children in Pakistan because of the strong influence they have on parents. “The bombardment of advertisements has had a serious financial impact on poor parents, whose children imitate the buying behaviours of children belonging to well-to-do families,” he added.  Haroon pointed out that most companies in Pakistan do not follow International Organization for Standardisations rules while advertising their products on the media.

A respondent, Mrs Farrukh, said lack of recreational facilities in the country adds to the influence of advertisements on children, who are forced to sit before the television and fail to get proper exercise during their peak growth years.

Mazhar Ali said his 10-year-old daughter Nina relies completely on fast food “She doesn’t eat meat or vegetables and prefers to have crisps and burgers that she sees on TV. She doesn’t realise that this kind of food is unhealthy for her,” he said. Ali said children should be given counselling on nutrition and diet.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd,  2011.


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