Television advertisements bombard children relentlessly with messages about junk food

They are supposed to be potato chips, but 70 percent of their weight is made up of fat and salt. They are typical of the products promoted by 95 percent of television food ads directed at Greek children. Salty snacks, fried food, biscuits, ice cream, heavily sweetened cereals and fast food, such as hamburgers and hot dogs, are the daily fare served up by the advertisers. A European Union-funded survey on the sale and advertising of unhealthy foods to children in 20 European countries, conducted with the participation of the Hellenic Cardiology Foundation, has revealed alarming statistics. Apart from bans on television ads aimed at children under 13 in Norway and Sweden, there have been no substantive efforts in the other countries to set any limits on what kind of foods are advertised, or on the frequency or duration of the ads. The food industry and advertising firms strenuously defend their right to promote their products in a free market and they resist any restrictions that health authorities attempt to place on them. Companies that sell and advertise junk food spend massive sums on television advertising. In Greece, the survey showed that the total budget for marketing food to children increased 38 percent from 2002 to 2003, that is, from 1.3 million to 1.8 million euros. In Germany, food advertisements in general represent 87 percent of the money spent on television advertising, and in the Netherlands the amount spent on food advertising increased by 128 percent from 1994 to 2003. Food is the most commonly advertised product during children’s television programs, the most extreme example being France (with eight ads an hour). Today some promotion money is being transferred from television to school and the Internet. Creative advertising strategies target elements from children’s culture, with references to films and their heroes, as well as their need for games, entertainment, action, adventure, humor and fantasy.

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