Monday, January 24, 2011

WHO may impose ban on TV advts targeting young children with unhealthy food items

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Jan 24: After pictorial warning on tobacco products, there will soon be restrictions on TV commercials promoting unhealthy food stuff for children.

The World Health Organisation, which has successfully implemented pictorial warning on tobacco products, has now asked all its member-countries including India to impose restrictions on TV commercials that target young children with unhealthy food items.

The Indian Council of Medical Research has drafted certain recommendations on what not to eat to stay fit. Once these guidelines are finalised, restrictions will be imposed on TV commercials trying to sell unhealthy foods. Policy makers and health experts will meet in Geneva in September to discuss the impact of TV commercials on the eating habits of young children and the need to contain them.

While welcoming the WHO's recommendations, city health experts believe that TV advertising is responsible for a large share of the marketing of unhealthy foods. "Children throughout the world are exposed to marketing of foods high in fat, sugar or salt, which increases the potential of younger generations developing noncommunicable diseases during their lives. Systematic reviews of evidence show that advertisements influence children's food preferences, purchase requests and consumption patterns." Some of the food stuff shown on TV commercials are of low nutritional value.

According o ICMR expert group chairman Dr B Narasinga Rao, the body does not need much sodium. "Intakes of 1.1 grams to 3.3 grams of sodium or just 2.8 grams to 8.3 grams of common salt is considered to be safe and adequate for healthy adults". But the WHO has found that most of the food stuff advertised for children in TV commercials contain high fat, sugar and salt, and they are responsible for the spurt in non-communicable diseases.

"Non-communicable diseases or lifestyle diseases are caused by the diet we eat. They are also influenced by stress. Control of diet and eating of healthy food right from the childhood will reduce the risk of non-communicable ailments like cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes," said senior cardiologist Dr Bharath Reddy.

The WHO recommendations come in the wake of reports that 4.3 crore children including 1.1 crore living in India, are obese or overweight. "The advertisements on the food and snacks are highly influential on children, and influence their food choices dramatically. Majority of the food that gets advertised doesn't comprise of good nutritional values," argues bariatric surgeon Dr Nandakishore Dukkipati.

Since in these advertisements, food is associated with a celebrity - film star, sports personality etc., and kids get influenced and tend to go for them, leading to overweight and obesity amongst them, Dr Nandakishore said adding that food advertisements also give subliminal suggestions making them prone to eat food high in calories leading to overweight.

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