Healthy Marketplace And Media Environments

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Children, youth, and their families are surrounded by a commercial environment that strongly influences their purchasing and consumption behaviors. Consumers may initially be unsure about what to eat for good health. They often make immediate trade-offs in taste, cost, and convenience for longer term health. The food, beverage, restaurant, entertainment, leisure, and recreation industries share in the responsibilities for childhood obesity prevention and can be instrumental in supporting this goal. Federal agencies can strengthen industry efforts through general support, technical assistance, research expertise, and regulatory guidance.

Some leaders in the food industry are already making changes to expand healthier options for young consumers, offer products with reduced energy content, and reduce portion sizes. These changes must be adopted on a much larger scale, however, and marketed in ways that make acceptance by consumers (who may now have acquired entrenched preferences for many less healthful products) more likely. Coordinated efforts among the private sector, government, and other groups are also needed to create, support, and sustain consumer demand for healthful food and beverage products, appropriately portioned restaurant and take-out meals, and accurate and consistent nutritional information through food labels, health claims, and other educational sources. Similarly, the leisure, entertainment, and recreation industries have opportunities to innovate in favor of stimu lating physical activity—as opposed to sedentary or passive-leisure pursuits—and portraying active living as a desirable social norm for adults and children.

Children's health-related behaviors are influenced by exposure to media messages involving foods, beverages, and physical activity. Research has shown that television advertising can especially affect children's food knowledge, choices, and consumption of particular food products, as well as their food-purchase decisions made directly and indirectly (through parents). Because young children under 8 years of age are often unable to distinguish between information and the persuasive intent of advertising, the committee recommends the development of guidelines for advertising and marketing of foods, beverages, and sedentary entertainment to children.

Media messages can also be inherently positive. There is great potential for the media and entertainment industries to encourage a balanced diet, healthful eating habits, and regular physical activity, thereby influencing social norms about obesity in children and youth and helping to spur the actions needed to prevent it. Public education messages in multiple types of media are needed to generate support for policy changes and provide messages to the general public, parents, children, and adolescents.

Recommendation 2: Industry

Industry should make obesity prevention in children and youth a priority by developing and promoting products, opportunities, and information that will encourage healthful eating behaviors and regular physical activity.

To implement this recommendation:

• Food and beverage industries should develop product and packaging innovations that consider energy density, nutrient density, and standard serving sizes to help consumers make healthful choices.

• Leisure, entertainment, and recreation industries should develop products and opportunities that promote regular physical activity and reduce sedentary behaviors.

• Full-service and fast food restaurants should expand healthier food options and provide calorie content and general nutrition information at point of purchase.

Recommendation 3: Nutrition Labeling

Nutrition labeling should be clear and useful so that parents and youth can make informed product comparisons and decisions to achieve and maintain energy balance at a healthy weight.

To implement this recommendation:

• The Food and Drug Administration should revise the Nutrition Facts panel to prominently display the total calorie content for items typically consumed at one eating occasion in addition to the standardized calorie serving and the percent Daily Value.

• The Food and Drug Administration should examine ways to allow greater flexibility in the use of evidence-based nutrient and health claims regarding the link between the nutritional properties or biological effects of foods and a reduced risk of obesity and related chronic diseases.

• Consumer research should be conducted to maximize use of the nutrition label and other food-guidance systems.

Recommendation 4: Advertising and Marketing Industry should develop and strictly adhere to marketing and advertising guidelines that minimize the risk of obesity in children and youth.

To implement this recommendation:

• The Secretary of the DHHS should convene a national conference to develop guidelines for the advertising and marketing of foods, beverages, and sedentary entertainment directed at children and youth with attention to product placement, promotion, and content.

• Industry should implement the advertising and marketing guidelines.

• The Federal Trade Commission should have the authority and resources to monitor compliance with the food and beverage and sedentary entertainment advertising practices.

Recommendation 5: Multimedia and Public Relations Campaign The DHHS should develop and evaluate a long-term national multimedia and public relations campaign focused on obesity prevention in children and youth.

To implement this recommendation:

• The campaign should be developed in coordination with other federal departments and agencies and with input from independent experts to focus on building support for policy changes; providing information to parents; and providing information to children and youth. Rigorous evaluation should be a critical component.

• Reinforcing messages should be provided in diverse media and effectively coordinated with other events and dissemination activities.

• The media should incorporate obesity issues into its content, including the promotion of positive role models.

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