11% of children in Croatia are classified as overweight, while Europe is marking a significant increase of obesity, which is a result of inadequate nutritional habits and an absenceof physical activity. Furthermore, in Croatia, 25% of children spend over four hours in front of the television, while on the weekend the numbers go up to 40%. The time spent in front of the screen is in direct correlation with inadequate nutritional habits and larger body mass index – these facts served as introduction to the panel “Big Eyes of Little Spenders – What Our Children Watch”, which had the following participants: Mario Fraculj (HURA, Croatia), Ivan Gale (RTL, Croatia), Olivera Međugorac (Croatian Employees Association, Croatia) and Daria Vranešić Bender (University hospital Zagreb, Department of Clinical Nutrition, Croatia).
The key factor is what is broadcasted and in which way. A Swiss research study showed that during the children’s program broadcast on Saturday mornings, advertisements are shown that feature reverse values from the ones on the food pyramid. Healthy ingredients which normally take up the most space in the food pyramid tend to be placed on the very bottom, whereas 50% of the ads are dominated by sweets and food that should be consumed the least. Children who watch these commercials have a higher demand for unhealthy food which has been scientifically proven.
Children are direct consumers and it is necessary to build up awareness in the long run, but at the same time, they are also the most vulnerable group which is also the most subject to advertising communication. Everyone is responsible for communicating with children – from advertisers, media, agencies, which makes ethical standards a requirement. furthermore, there are two approaches – regulatory and self-regulatory. The self-regulatory approach is the one we have to choose to implement and which should come before regulation which is designated by law, the participants of the panel agreed.
For example, in the Netherlands, it is forbidden to advertise food product during the children’s program, while all brands are present in German television channels, which shows a disparity in regulations.
The problem does exist, but many need to become aware of it. In 2015 the population will reach 9 billion, and education on adequate nutrition is crucial.
Not advertising is not the solution, because it will not decrease obesity. The key issue is informing and education, as well encouraging children to increase their physical activities, and along with advertisers and media, agencies also need to work on the proper education of children. Nutritional habits of children are basically the nutritional habits of their parents, and children learn from their parents because there are no good or bad products – there is only correct and incorrect balance.
Nutritional habits and a good nutritional start are made in early years, and the child will have better nutritional habits with an early start, but also, schools need to offer information and a proper education.